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If your Christian university does not require a substantive class on nourishing an excellent Christian marriage, it is not engaged in a key factor behind upward economic mobility. Why do I say that? The social science evidence. As Melisa Kearney, a University of Maryland economist, and author of Two-Parent Privilege, shared on a recent podcast, “The single biggest predictor of a high rate of upward mobility for kids in a neighborhood is the share of kids being raised in two-parent homes.”1

I do not find this empirical claim surprising. The students I teach from broken homes have the most wounds, have taken the most morally variable path, and have experienced the greatest sense of betrayal and anger in their lives. There was one popular female athlete I knew who constantly drowned her sorrows in alcohol due to the sexual abuse she had received from her stepfather late at night after her mother was in bed. Although outwardly successful, the last I had heard was that she could never shake the pain or the alcohol. Economically, she had a hard time keeping a job.

The empirical evidence supports my anecdotal experience. For example, child abuse is more common in non-intact families by a significant percentage. A child from a single parent with a partner is 17.6% more likely to be physically abused when compared to a child from married parents.2 They are also 7% more likely to be sexually abused and 7.4% more likely to suffer emotional abuse.

Yet, although many of the graduate students I teach come from Christian universities, most know little about the theological or social science evidence for the importance of marriage and two-parent families for human flourishing or what makes a successful marriage. That is likely because their institutions, with few exceptions, have not taught them. What is my evidence for this claim?

My research team and I recently examined the general education requirements of all Protestant universities with one required Christian course.  We found that outside of Bible/Theology and English composition courses, the vast majority follow what Jeffrey Bilbo calls the “choose-your-own-adventure” approach to general education by allowing students to meet a vague, general capacity by choosing from three or more course options. We looked specifically to see if any required a course for all students on marriage and family with an explicitly stated Christian perspective. We only found courses at five institutions. Interestingly, all of them were small, low-church Protestant institutions (Cairn University, Evangel University, Johnson University, TN, Southern Wesleyan University, and Welch College).

Not surprisingly, three of the required general education courses approached the issue from a psychological view. Here is the course description that sounded the most promising from Welch College

SSC 3101. MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY Following an introductory survey of the fundamental themes of psychological study, this course will analyze the psychological, cultural, and religious factors that contribute to a successful marriage, with special attention to the premarital period and the early stages of marriage. Child-rearing and the responsibilities of parenthood are of particular concern. A variety of resources will be examined. Special attention will be given to the mode of inquiry of the social and behavioral sciences examined from the perspective of Scripture and the Christian tradition. The course is designed to meet the needs of college students as well as to provide them with information and resources for ministry to others.

Why wouldn’t every Christian general education or core curriculum include such a course? After all, even those students who do not get married need to learn what can help support one of the most important foundations of civilization.

Astoundingly, only one of these required courses was a sociology course. The discipline of sociology should be the best at addressing this issue and indeed two of the top Catholic scholars in this area are sociologists. For instance, one senior shared with my research team the following when asked about the most transformative course (which was a sociology course on marriage and family), “I took away a lot from the marriage stuff that they had. There was research on what leads to good marriages, which I was just like, ‘Dang.’ I think it’s important to find wisdom from many different places.” 3 I find that when students discover what leads to good marriages or how important marriage is for human flourishing it transforms their thinking.

Now, one would think that Christian universities would try to educate their students about healthy marriages simply out of self-interest. After all, flourishing alumni are better equipped to give back to their institution. Yet, I hope colleges and universities would also look to take the academic knowledge we have amassed about how marriage contributes to human flourishing and what makes for healthy marriages to the Church.

Thus, I contend the second major endeavor to aid social justice would be to partner with local churches serving lower-income populations to offer pre-marital classes that help marriages. Why these churches? Marriage rates among the poor are the lowest, which has negative implications for these churches and the congregants within them, especially the children.

Furthermore, helping marriage prevents strain on other ministries. For a woman to become a single parent is the fastest way to poverty. Indeed, anyone who has engaged in ministry with the homeless and poor knows this reality if they are observant. Our family has engaged in helping numerous such families over the years. From that experience, I learned how hard it is to help a poor couple overcome the unhealthy habits acquired amid a shattered home. Christ can and does perform miracles in the lives of these broken and wounded, but decades of bad experiences and habits still leave deep scars.

Broken family structures also make it difficult to enforce good habits. One of these couples in whose lives we were involved, was making good decisions and establishing good habits. However, the fact that the live-in male parent was trying to enforce some boundaries on the oldest step-daughter who was sleeping around eventually resulted in a claim of abuse. Was it accurate? I don’t know, but it ended up tearing the whole unstable family apart with both the step-daughter and the live-in male parent reverting to drug use for a while and the family breaking apart. I should note that relational connections and money were not the issue here. Our Sunday School class had invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into this family, but it was partially undermined by their unstable family structure (as well as other factors).

So, if your university claims to be concerned about economic injustice, they should be requiring general education classes that explore what contributes to marital flourishing and sharing that knowledge with local churches serving low-income families.  


  1. Bari Weiss, “Why Half of American Babies Are Born to Unmarried Mothers,”
  2. Brad Wilcox, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization (New York: Broadside Books, 2024), 70-71.
  3. Perry L. Glanzer and Theodore F. Cockle, “Students’ Perceptions of Moral Change and Influence in College: A Case Study of Undergraduate Seniors at a Faith-Based University,” Journal of Character Education 18, no. 2 (2022): 35.

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.


  • Jill Haarsma says:

    I am a flourishing single woman. I do not exist to “help support one of the most important foundations of civilization.” Healthy marriages are important, but I’ve spent a lifetime working through the baggage the church and Christian community has blessed me with. Baggage that says, I’m not ready spiritually/healthy/flourishing without a spouse and children. Churches and communities ignore single women and men, or even worse, ask them to serve and support families and children as you have done in your article (e.g. teach Sunday school, cover nursery, cover a co-worker’s work during parental leave, work more or late hours because a co-worker has childcare needs).

    I have worked in Christian higher education my entire life, and that is also the sub-text in this community. I can’t imagine what sending young women and men through a required marriage course would do in terms of additional baggage for students who already feel like they are less than because they aren’t in a relationship or engaged.

    Check yourself and consider what you might be saying that’s not intentional.

    • pglanzer says:

      I’m sorry to hear about the baggage you say the church has “blessed” you with. One of the great things about the Church should be that it values both marriage and singleness as unique and important callings from God. It sounds like you did not receive that dual message. I’m sorry.

      That being said, I disagree with your claim that a required Marriage and Family course will harm future singles more than help future couples and the flourishing of their children. You’re assuming the course would relate the same problematic message that you received. Any properly-taught Christian course on this subject should contain the dual emphasis of the Christian tradition I noted above. After all, when a course discusses families, singles are part of families. When it discusses a Christian view of marriage and singleness, it should indicate that both are unique and special callings from God.

      You mentioned that I ask singles “to serve and support families and children.” Actually, I didn’t. I suggested that all Christian college students (whether married or single in college) should learn about a theological understanding of marriage and the social science evidence for why two-parent families are important for the flourishing of children (and why that helps economic social mobility). That is very different. I would encourage you to reread the article.

  • Perry documents an important factor that deserves attention in Christian higher education. While he is citing recent research, other scholarship began with Don Browning’s major initiatives about marriage and family relationships during the 1990s when Don was a scholar at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Many books originated from that Lilly-supported project including contributions by family sociologist Linda Waite. The book she coauthored in 2001 with Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage, is notable. But times change. Now one of the bigger considerations for universities and colleges is the rising average marriage age for young adults. Three decades ago, the typical marriage age was in the lower 20s, closer to the age of many undergraduates. Now the average marriage age is in the upper 20s. So, how do colleges and universities incorporate important understandings of marriage in their curricula when this decision is postponed by the majority of their students? What should Christian institutions say about cohabitation, a pattern that has grown among young adults in lieu of marriage? We should be introducing students to the research and Christian questions about this phenomenon too. Further, Perry notes the important work of other institutions such as churches as those who engage young adults whose path does not include a four-year undergraduate experience. They need our help and guidance in their spiritual and moral formation too. Thank you, Perry, for raising this question as one that is central to economic and social justice. It is.

  • Michael Jindra says:

    Anthropologists would say the same thing (or should, as they frequently drop the ball also in favor of other, less important explanations for social problems), Here’s a good, older article from an anthropologist with the provocative title of “Poor Suffering Bastards” which gives a good cross-cultural background to the importance of marriage, especially how it domesticates men. I don’t say I agree with everything in the article, but it’s on target, and I have used this in class:

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