Families That Eat Together, Stay Together

Economist Points to Families as an Answer to Recession

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MEXICO CITY, JAN. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- It is no more complicated than sitting down together at the table, but according to an economist from the Catholic University of America, simply sharing family meals is key for children's development.

And, the economist suggested, strong families are good not just for the children given life within them. They are also good for the economy.

These were affirmations made by Maria Sophia Aguirre, a professor in the department of economics at Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University of America, during her address today at the 6th World Meeting of Families, underway in Mexico City.

Her presentation focused on the multiple benefits of stable families based on marriage, for all involved parties. She cited statistics such as marriage increases the likelihood of the father having good relations with children; divorce reduces the likelihood of children graduating from college and high school; and married mothers have lower levels of depression than single or co-habiting mothers.

Even physical health is better for families based on marriage, she said: Infant mortality is sharply reduced in this structure and there are lower probabilities of injury.

On the contrary, Aguirre noted, "the breakdown of the family is a symptom of a sick and weak society."

Problems of all sorts increase in irregular families: Women are more likely to be abused, kids are more likely to use drugs, and women and children of broken families have a higher probability of living in poverty.

More than a meal

And though it cannot be the solution for every problem, Aguirre mentioned that the simple act of eating together as a family has an effect on the development of children.

According to a study done by the National Center on Substance and Addiction at Colombia University, when comparing adolescents who eat dinner 0-2 times a week with their families and those who eat dinner 5-7 times, those who eat with their families more frequently are 40% more like to talk to their parents about a problem. Meanwhile, 171% of the teens who don't eat with their families note more tension at home.

Academic performance went up 38%. Kids were 142% less likely to smoke, 93% less likely to drink, 191% less likely to use marijuana and 169% less likely to have more than half of their friends be drug users.

And predictably, a family composed of both parents is 3.5 times more likely to have dinner as a family than a single-parent household.

More than money

Aguirre then turned her attention to the economic benefits of stable families based on marriage. Giving a review of nations ranging from Canada to Chile, the economist concluded that families are simply better for the economy.

"The breakdown of the family damages the economy and society since human, moral and social capital is reduced and social costs increase," she explained.

The professor contended that family structure is quite relevant for wealth, and that there is evidence to support this from across countries.

"The family is a necessary good for economic development," Aguirre concluded. "It should be promoted and protected if poverty reduction wants to be achieved."