July 18, 2014


The benefits of marriage

This is the Fall Marriage Edition of The Criterion. We invite you to read on pages 8-9 about the couples who were recently married or who plan to marry in the near future. (See the listings here)

We also congratulate those couples for doing something that is becoming increasingly rare in our society—getting married. Whatever happened to the days when it was taken for granted that couples would get married before they started living together and raising a family? In fact, it was considered shameful to do anything else.

The teachings of the Catholic Church about marriage have been widely disregarded. Parishes have many fewer marriages than they once did, even as the numbers of parishioners increase.

And that’s despite countless studies and surveys that show that the happiness of individuals and the healthy condition of society can best be achieved through the permanent union of one man and one woman in marriage. We know of no study that shows otherwise and seriously doubt that there could be any.

We recently read a review of research on the benefits generated from families rooted in marriage that was prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s only 25 pages long, but it includes 109 footnotes, just to give an idea of the amount of research covered.

The conclusion, which shouldn’t be surprising, is that marriage is good for society as well as for women, men and children.

For women, marriage usually means: more satisfying relationships with their spouses and children; emotional happiness, with less depression; wealthier and less likely to end up in poverty; decreased risk to be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other violent crimes; a decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse; and they are physically healthier and live longer than their unmarried peers.

For men, the benefits include: physically healthier, recuperate from illness faster and live longer; emotionally healthier; have better relationships with their children, and a more satisfying sexual relationship with their wives; are wealthier, have higher wages and experience an increase in the stability of employment; have a decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse; are less likely to commit violent crimes; and less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease.

Children raised in families do better in school; are more likely to attend college and enter the work force in stronger positions; are physically and emotionally healthier; are less likely to be physically or sexually abused; are less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors; have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married; and are less likely to have sex at an early age.

Adolescents who live with only one parent, usually the mother, are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age 20, and one-and-a-half times as likely to be out of school and out of work in their late teens and early 20s.

Single-parent families constitute more than 73 percent of the lowest income group among Americans. This includes divorced women as well as those who lived with the fathers of their children and those who didn’t.

But isn’t cohabitation just as good as marriage? As some couples ask, “Why do we need a piece of paper” (the marriage license)? The research shows that long-term cohabiting relationships are far rarer than successful marriages.

Couples who cohabit before marriage have a 46 percent greater risk of divorce than couples who don’t. Also, cohabitants who live with biological children or stepchildren are depressed more frequently than are married couples with children, and there are higher rates of domestic violence.

Wealthy people marry—and stay married—at a greater rate than the poor and middle class. Of the upper 20 percent of wage earners, more than 90 percent of white adults 30 to 49 were married in 1960 and that percentage has dropped to 85 percent today. Among the bottom 30 percent, more than 80 percent married in 1960, but that percentage among white adults has dropped to less than 50 percent. That’s because fewer of them get married and because divorce rates have skyrocketed for them, but not for the rich.

Marriage as the Church teaches is always better all around.

—John F. Fink

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