“Marriage is dead,”. . . or, at least, no longer necessary was the Nietzchean-like declaration of two young, female writers in Newsweek. In an article entitled “The Case Against Marriage,” Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison lay-out with dismissive nonchalance, and not a small amount of arrogance, the various reasons that they, and women like them no longer need marriage. “Once upon a time, marriage made sense,” they write.
“It was how women ensured their financial security, got the father of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established women’s rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is–from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway–no longer necessary.”
Well, from a “legal standpoint,” they may be correct. With the advent of no-fault divorce, and a growing welfare state, singledom is no longer legally disadvantaged, and as they claim, may be advantaged in some ways. However, from every other standpoint–practical or otherwise–they could not be further from the truth. Legal structures and societal trends may obscure this fact, but the truth is traditional marriage benefits everyone–men, women, children, and as a result, society. Marriage is in fact necessary. Why? Simply put: because marriage produces the best results for society and especially for women.
The danger is that the “Marriage is dead” crowd, so aptly represented by Bennett and Ellison, is getting louder, and with changes in public policy increasingly disadvantaging the married, and society increasingly glorifying “chic singledom” this crowd is becoming more persuasive. Fortunately, the facts are on the side of marriage. So please indulge us as we take on Bennett and Ellison, point by point, in our case against “the case against marriage.”
- Marriage is no longer necessary for child-rearing or, at least, society no longer expects women to be married to have children. Bennett and Ellison point out that the social stigma against marriage disappeared a long time ago, with 41 percent of births being to unmarried mothers. They also make the claim that this can be an advantage, for in Scandinavia, where unmarried parents are the norm, parents actually spend more time with their children. What Bennett and Ellison seem to forget are outcomes.
Yes, the social stigma against single parents may be gone, but the negative consequences for children are not. Study after study has shown that children living with a married mom and dad are better off. They are more likely to have better health, fewer behavioral and emotional problems, better cognitive and verbal development and greater education and job attainment. All the statistics are clear, traditional marriage is better for children.
As for the parent with child time ratio, if their facts are correct, Scandinavia would be the exception, an exception enabled by a cradle-to-grave welfare state in which the government compensates for the financial and social instability inherent to unmarried child-rearing. The more children are raised out of wedlock, the more government welfare programs are needed to compensate. That is a simple fact. And with government debt rising around the world, this is a responsibility most governments simply cannot afford.
- Marriage is no longer necessary to engage in sexual relations. It is true that many, some would argue most, no longer wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Bennett and Ellison fairly accurately, if a bit glibly, express the general attitude: “And the idea that we’d ‘save ourselves’ for marriage? Please.” Yet, as mainstream as this attitude may be, it is not one they should be touting as a reason to dispose of marriage.
No matter what societal mores may be, pre-marital sex leads to negative outcomes. It leads to more out-of-wedlock childbearing, more STDs, more violence in relationships, more mental and emotional trauma to women, and cohabitation contributes to a higher divorce rate–and that’s just the short list of the “contributions” of pre-martial sex. There is nothing about this trend that is healthy and good for society.
- Government programs and legislation no longer benefit the married, and probably advantage the single. Bennett and Ellison rightly point out that under current governmental policy; it sometimes doesn’t pay to be married. Unmarried couples have nearly all the rights of married couples, “federal law favors unmarried taxpayers . . . and under President Obama’s health plan, low-earning single people get better subsidies to buy insurance.”
But the duo forgets to mention that 75 percent of the $150+ billion dollars spent annually on various government welfare programs goes directly to single parents and individuals in non-traditional relationships. On the other hand, marriage is financially advantageous in nearly every other way. Here’s just a few facts:
– Marriage increases wealth over one’s lifetime. Among couples who marry and stay married, their net worth increases on average by 16 percent with each year. Over a lifetime that is, on average, a 93 percent increase in wealth over those who remain single.
– For those in poverty, particularly, marriage is even more important financially. According to one study, seventy percent of never-married mothers would be able to escape poverty if they were married to the father of their children.
No government program can tout such success in alleviating poverty. So government programs may not directly benefit the married, but the married are still better off financially, even without tax breaks.
- Women are not happier in marriage. Well, this one is just blatantly false. If you would like to talk superficially about marriage, as Bennett and Ellison do, you can certainly cite enough male shortcomings to discourage any woman from wanting to marry. But the truth of the matter is evidence indicates that both men and women are happier in marriage. Statistics show that married people are happier and wealthier than widowed, divorced, separated, or never-married people across the board. And not only are women happier in marriage, they also experience lower levels of violence, poverty, depression and emotional trauma. Not to mention, they also enjoy better sex lives and live longer than single women. So the amount of housework they do weekly may increase due to the simple fact of being married to a man, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
- Humans are not made to stay together for a lifetime, as illustrated by soaring divorce rates. “With our life expectancy in the high 70s,” write Bennett and Ellison, “the idea that we’re meant to be together forever is less realistic. . . . Healthy partnerships are possible, for sure–but the permanence of marriage seems naive, almost arrogant.” Let us suggest that what is “arrogant,” is assuming humans are not equipped for lifetime commitment (against centuries’ worth of evidence to the contrary) on the evidence that we are living a little longer and divorcing more often.
The truth is extended longevity accounts for only a tiny fraction of the increase in divorce from 1965 to 1980. And more importantly, over 70 percent of all people who have ever been married are STILL married to the same person. The other 30 percent are part of a marry-divorce, remarry-divorce, remarry-divorce pattern that drives the overall divorce rate to around 50 percent.
So perhaps a more accurate diagnosis of the problem is not human nature, but the unrealistic expectations on the part of a minority who continue to marry and remarry. Bennett and Ellison, themselves, identify that expectations of marriage have changed. “Young people today don’t want their parents’ marriage, says Tara Parker-Pope, the author of For Better–they want all-encompassing, head-over-heels fulfillment: a best friend, a business partner, somebody to share sex, love, and chores. In other words, a “soul mate”–which is what 94 percent of singles in their 20s describe what they look for in a partner.” Such expectation would doom any relationship to failure because they are based on selfish gratification which is a number one contributor to divorce. Seventy percent of the population has learned that real fulfillment comes through years of sacrifice and service as soul mates are created–not found!
Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison in “The Case Against Marriage,” aren’t the first to set out to disprove the benefits of marriage. In fact, such attempts are almost as old as marriage itself. A very inclusive study of this nature was attempted by a well known anthropologist of the early 1900’s named Joseph Daniel Unwin. He too set out to prove that marriage was irrelevant and even harmful. In his research he chronicled the historical decline of 86 different cultures and was forced to conclude that only marriage with fidelity could lead to cultural prosperity. In fact, he said, “Once a society departs from a social norm of absolute marital monogamy, social chaos ensues within three generations!”
United Families International acknowledges Unwin’s findings and we dedicate large amounts of time and efforts in protecting the institution of traditional marriage as the most basic unit of society around the world. Join us in this effort!
To see a list of studies documenting the importance of marriage as discussed above, go here. Or visit UFI’s website to see UFI’s Guides to Family Issues: The Marriage Advantage and our guide discussing the impact of Cohabitation.