WHO NEEDS MARRIAGE?
The first characteristic of commitment to family is marriage- the foundation of the family. Marriage is a man and woman committing to each other and choosing to have a child or children. The goodness and desirability of marriage was universal up until recent history. Marriage has been the foundational relationship that is the beginning of all civilizations.
Who needs marriage? This is a question we hear frequently today.
Timothy Keller, in his book, The Meaning of Marriage challenges the relatively recent minimizing of the value, goodness and relevance of marriage. Keller affirms the biblical account of the establishment of the marriage relationship.
OBJECTIONS TO MARRIAGE
Keller lists the objections to marriage which includes: marriage was originally about stabilizing peoples financial situation; marriage crushes individual identity and is oppressive toward women; marriage stifles passion and is ill-fitted to psychological reality and marriage is “only a piece of paper” that only complicates love. He goes on to say, “But beneath these philosophical objections lies a snarl of conflicting personal emotions, born out of many negative experiences with marriage and family life.”
The statistics regarding divorce further document the lack of stability of marriages with the average couple marrying for the first time, the lifetime probability of divorce is around 40 percent. However, the large majority of divorces occur in those who marry before the age of 18, who have dropped out of high school, and who have had a baby before marrying.
IS LIVING TOGETHER THE ANSWER?
Therefore, many young adults have a wariness and pessimism about marriage that leads them to live together without marrying. Ironically, some research shows that 85% of the couples who live together without marrying will either break-up or divorce by the end of 10 years. The desire and choice to cohabit weakens your chance for a strong future marriage.
Many young people advocate cohabiting for several reasons: the assumption that marriage is a financial drain and they should own a home and be financially stable before marrying. However, the fact is there are financial benefits for marriage. Married men earn 10-40% more than single men with the similar education and job history. And continuously married couples have 75% more wealth at retirement than those who never married or those who divorced and did not remarry. Marriage provides higher levels of holding each other accountable by encouraging personal responsibility and self-discipline. Spouses can encourage saving, investment and delayed gratification better than the friends and other family members of those who are single.
Another reason for cohabiting is the perception that married couples are unhappy in their marriages. Surveys show us that 60% of married couples rate their marriages as “very happy”. And longitudinal studies show us that “unhappy marriages” become “happy” within five years if they stay married and do not divorce.
WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT COMMITMENT TO MARRIAGE?
Marriage has been a stabilizing factor in all societies throughout recorded time. The consensus in history as well as the teaching of all major religions and the accumulated empirical evidence of the most recent social science validates marriage as having substantial personal, social and societal benefits compared to remaining single or just living with someone.
MARRIAGE- MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Marriage helps the individuals recover from the traumas, disappointments and illnesses of life more effectively. In numerous international studies, married people on average report fewer signs of psychological distress and higher rates of emotional well-being than do unmarried or divorced individuals. A study following 14,000 American adults over a ten-year period found that marital status was one of the most important predictors of happiness. Married Americans were more than twice as likely as divorced or separated Americans to say they were very happy with life in general.
Married mothers have lower rates of depression than do single or cohabiting mothers.
MARRIAGE- PHYSICAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.
Parental marriage is associated with a sharply lower risk of infant mortality.
Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than do otherwise similar singles.
Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness, and disability for both men and women.
MARRIAGE- FAMILY BENEFITS
In “Power of the Family,” economists Alberto Alesina and Paola Giuliano conclude that families with stronger ties are likely to report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives.
Children are most likely to enjoy family stability when they are born into a married family.
Family breakdown appears to increase significantly the risk of suicide.
Children raised by their own married mother and father are more likely to stay in school, have fewer behavioral and attendance problems, and earn four-year college degrees.
Children raised by their own married mother and father are more likely to have positive attitudes towards marriage and greater success in forming lasting marriages.
MARRIAGE- SOCIAL BENEFITS
Being married changes people’s lifestyles and habits in ways that are personally and socially beneficial. Marriage is a “seedbed” of prosocial behavior.
Marriage generates social capital. The social bonds created through marriage yield benefits not only for the family but for others as well, including the larger society.
MARRIAGE- SOCIETAL BENEFITS
The biggest societal benefit to marriage is the impact it has on children. Studies show that children who grow up in married two-parent families have two to three times more positive life outcomes than those who do not.
Another societal benefit of marriage is the increases in financial and quality of life issues. Bradford Wilcox and Robert Lerman showed in their study that the decline in traditional two-parent married families is associated with rising income inequality, lower median incomes and lower labor force participation rates. Two parent married families earn 30% higher median family income.
In fact, States that have higher rates of two-parent married families are strongly correlated with more state GDP per capita, greater levels of upward economic mobility, lower levels of child poverty, and higher median family incomes.
The institution of marriage reliably creates the social, economic and affective conditions for effective parenting.
Next: Commitment to Family- Commitment to Each Individual
Keller, T. (n.d.). The Meaning of Marriage.
Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 3rd edition http://www.americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/wmm3-30-conclusions.pdf
Marriage and Mental Health in Adults and Children W. Bradford Wilcox, Linda Waite, and Alex Roberts http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/researchbrief4.pdf