Marriage Is Dead… Or Is It? (Part 2)

By Lauren Hall
May 9, 2024

In last week’s column, I suggested a different interpretation of the decline of marriage as an essential institution in our country. Recent studies from Pew Research and the National Council for Family Relations indicate that the majority of Americans still desire and revere marriage but are often leery of the long-term commitment it requires and feel other milestones are more important, such as education, careers and building a solid financial foundation as an individual.

From this understanding, there are two questions: 1.) Does marriage matter? 2.) Can we do anything to make marriage more of a priority and more appealing?

“The family structure in and of itself is an important factor in reducing poverty: children raised in single-parent families are nearly five times as likely to be poor as those in married-couple families,” reports the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity. In their extensive 88-page report, the Brookings Working Group provides four recommendations, the first is to “promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources.” 

The Brookings Institute isn’t the only nonpartisan research group reporting marriage as a pathway out of poverty and into stability and opportunity. Pew Research, The American Enterprise Institute, The RAND Corporation, and others have all contributed studies or meta-analyses demonstrating marriage as a necessity for generational financial stability. In their opinion, marriage still matters for the future of families in our country.

However, I would be failing you as the reader if I didn’t address the obvious– telling people that marriage should be a priority in their life because of financial reasons is not very, dare I say, romantic. And the idea that simply saying “I do” provides enough stability to create a positive generational impact can set couples and families up for disappointment. 

Let’s look at the second question.

Can we do anything to make marriage more of a priority and more appealing? 

Robert Emery, a professor at the University of Virginia, says that, in past generations, people thought of marriage as “more of a businesslike relationship.” He argues that the marriage rates fell and divorce rates rose when people started thinking less with their wallets and more with their hearts.

“The notion today is that marriage is about love and love is about personal fulfillment,” Emery says. Mutual personal fulfillment is a complex and evolving goal. While many couples are no longer financially dependent on each other, individuals who no longer feel fulfilled in a relationship may more easily leave a marriage or not even feel the need to commit to marriage in the first place. This is why it’s so important to stress the health of the marriage relationship. 

Harvard University, The American Psychological Association, and The Mental Health Foundation have all conducted studies within the last decade that found healthy marriage relationships can provide these profound benefits for both men and women:

  • A longer life-expectancy
  • Less risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse
  • Better immune system and physical health 
  • Less risk of mental health disorders or issues for children
  • Fewer feelings of loneliness and hopelessness
  • A more optimistic outlook on life overall

Likewise, the same organizations reported that an unhealthy marriage can have the opposite effects and lead to additional issues such as domestic violence. 

The key takeaway is that marriage as a social structure can provide more financial stability.

But marriage can have a much more significant impact on society and future generations if we focus on relational health and not just the act of marriage.

To make marriage more appealing and desirable overall, we must be willing to note the fulfilling benefits of a healthy relationship. We must normalize that marriage takes work, but in the words of the Peace Corps, it may just be the toughest job you’ll ever love.

Read part 1 here!

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

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