Marriage means different things to different people. For some, marriage is just a piece of paper. (In fact, the Pew Research Center found that almost 4 in 10 Americans think marriage is obsolete.) For others, marriage is a nice but perhaps unreachable ideal. And for others still, marriage is desirable but just hasn’t happened yet. (More Pew Research data found that about 6 in 10 unmarried Americans want to get married.)
Regardless of what people think about marriage, here’s the question: Does marriage really matter? Is the institution of marriage obsolete, or is it something that can benefit individuals, families, and society as a whole?
Here are a *few reasons why social science suggests that marriage really does matter.
1. Marriage Strengthens Families
While non-traditional families can still have a great deal of love, social science research shows that marriage promotes even stronger relationships. For example, according to the Institute for American Values, when parents are married, they’re more likely to have positive relationships with their children.
Marriage also provides a more stable family environment for kids. An international report from the Social Trends Institute found that children born to cohabiting parents are “more likely to see their parents split by age 12 than children born into married families.”
2. Marriage Improves the Economy
Marriage may have great benefits for families, but it’s not just the families that benefit. Research shows that marriage does a lot to improve the economy! Marriage both reduces poverty and increases wealth. In fact, the Heritage Foundation says that marriage may be “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty”!
3. Marriage Helps with Physical Health
Surprisingly enough, having a healthy marriage can lead to physical health benefits too! One meta-analysis explains that the physical health benefits of marriage “may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.”
Read that sentence again. Yeah, you read it right! Marriage may do as much for your health as it would to quit smoking. That’s a pretty big health benefit right there.
Marriage may also lead to not just a healthier life, but also a longer one. Research shows that on average, married people live longer than unmarried people do.
4. Marriage Helps with Mental Health
Marriage does more than just help your physical health; it can help your mental health too! One international study found that married couples are happier overall, even compared to couples who live together. And as marriage researcher Paul Amato explained it, married people “report fewer symptoms of depression and are less likely to think about suicide.”
5. Marriage Reduces Crime and Domestic Violence
Healthy marriages can help reduce crime for both parents and children. Studies show that married women are much less likely to experience domestic abuse. Not only this, but kids who grow up with married parents are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. (Check out the US Department of Justice’s report on how family life affects crime here!)
If marriage really does matter so much, then what should you do about it? Here are some things to consider.
Share the facts. People in the world today don’t always realize just how great or important marriage is. So share it with them! (You can start by sharing this article. 😉 )
Teach your children. Because much of the world says marriage isn’t important (remember that Pew survey?), your kids won’t see why marriage matters unless you tell them. And perhaps more important than telling them is showing them.
Strengthen your marriage. These benefits are found most in healthy marriages. So do what you can to strengthen your marriage, and you’ll be much more likely to see the plus side of marriage.
Now you may be wondering, is marriage the magical cure-all for personal and societal problems? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Most of these benefits are associated with healthy marriages, which takes work and effort. (For example, check out Dr. Rob’s article about the importance of being intentional in marriage.) But as we try our best to improve our marriages, we’ll have happier, healthier families and a happier, healthier world.
*The idea for this article came from the Institute for American Value’s publication, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences. Check out the summary of it in their PDF here.
Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things, just gave birth to her first child, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.
Dr. Tim is spending a few months in Washington, D.C. doing research at the Marriage & Religion Research Institute. Watch his latest video to hear about what he’s been doing and learn why dads really do matter!
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things and will graduate in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.
In my driveway, we have an adjustable basketball standard or hoop. When my son Carter was 10, he liked to lower the basket to 8 feet when we shot hoops. That way he could easily make a basket. After about 5 minutes, I’d raise it a couple of feet and he would usually protest. But I knew he’d never improve his game or himself with a low standard (pun intended).
Permissive social mores have ‘let men off the hook’ as it were, so that many think it acceptable to father children out of wedlock and to cohabit rather than marry. Dodging commitments is considered smart, but sacrificing for the good of others, naive.
Unfortunately, many of those who lower the standard for dads—claiming that fathers are useless buffoons—are likely individuals whose fathers were mostly dead-beats.
The Ripple Effect of Absentee Dads
While camping near a lake, my son tried to skip a rock across the water. As it plunged into the lake, it was remarkable to watch how one little rock could cause ripples to spread for quite some distance.
When men father children and then check out of their fatherly duties, it doesn’t just impact that child. The “ripple effect” goes through both society and generations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America, or one out of three children, now live in a biological father-absent home. Here is just a small sample of the ripple effect of absentee dads:
Infant mortality rates are nearly 2 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in fatherless families.
Youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families.
Father involvement in schools is associated with greater academic success and achievement in their children.
There are many today who—in the name of equality—are attempting to erase any differences between men and women. However, a whole raft of research has shown the biological and psychological differences between boys and girls that are evident from birth. Boys and girls see, hear, think, feel, and learn differently. Of course both genders have much in common, but many individual and societal problems have come from trying to make men and women the same. Professor David Popenoe summarizes what this gender research means for parents:
“We should disavow the notion that ‘mommies can make good daddies,’ just as we should disavow the popular notion…that ‘daddies can make good mommies.’… The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.”
Because of their distinct gifts and abilities, men and women each bring a unique perspective to family life. Dads think and act differently than moms. Some of these distinct differences are in the areas of regulating aggression and general activity, cognitive skills, sensory sensitivity, and sexual behavior to name just a few.
For example, think of raising children like a person’s stability in standing, walking, and running. An individual with only their left foot (due to birth defect, amputation, or accident) can probably stand upright, especially with assistance. A person with 2 left feet (not likely, I know) may have more support. But a left and a right foot both compliment and stabilize each other.
A mother and a father is the most ideal scenario for raising children. Yet, with our current culture and laws we send the message over and over again that dads are optional.
Fathers Be Good to Your Daughters
Mounting evidence demonstrates that girls whose fathers are absent and uninvolved are much more likely to become sexually active, sexually exploited through pornography and prostitution, struggle with their male/romantic relationships, and become mothers as teens—perpetuating the cycle of children without fathers.
“Fathers, be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers.”
Daddy-daughter dates are a terrific way to build and teach healthy relationships. I try to take each of my 3 daughters on a date every other month, and I consider it a great honor. I want them experience the kind of treatment they deserve from boys so they won’t settle for anything less. Here is a beautiful example of a dad who gets it:
Raising the Standard
Let’s help raise the standard for men. If you’re a dad like me, regularly evaluate the time (quality and quantity) you’re investing in your most important work—your family. Have consistent one-on-one chats with each of your children where they can talk to you about anything and everything. Get into your child’s world and truly understand them! William Shakespeare has said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Additionally, if you’ve fathered a child and are living with your child’s mother, please consider marriage! Professor Robert P. George wisely wrote:
“Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed to both the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so.”
If you’re a divorced father, make an effort to heal the relationship with your children’s mother. That doesn’t mean you need to remarry her. But it does mean you should try to make peace with her. The best predictor of divorced dads being involved in his children’s lives is the quality of relationship he has with their mother.
Thanks to all you fathers who hold themselves to a high standard of commitment. We can all feel their positive ripple-effect. Be one of those dads, and your children — as well as generations to come — will thank you!
Please help us strengthen families by sharing this video with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.
Almost three years ago I had my first “porn talk” with my kids. This came about after reading a simple article about teens and their ever increasing access and inevitable use of pornography. As I read, I became frustrated, then scared and finally determined. I knew I had to educate my kids immediately about this danger, as well as every parent I came in contact with.
I didn’t have all the answers that first day, but it didn’t matter. I opened the door to a new dimension in my relationships with my three kids. A dimension that brought a closeness and unity to our family that was not there before.
Just days after this first talk, I began doing serious research into the devastating effects of porn consumption by children. I read, I dug, I pondered, I planned and within a few months I had created a non-profit organization. An organization that focuses on teaching parents how to create deep connections with their kids and start some pretty challenging conversations about the dangers of pornography, and its opposite, healthy sexuality.
In those first few months of researching, organizing and layering conversations with my kids, I had a tremendous worry. Was I “giving my kids ideas” (or creating an unhealthy curiosity that was not there before)?
The answer became apparent. Yes! I was “giving them ideas.”
And I want you to give your children the same ideas.
Give your kids the idea that you are a great source of reliable, honest information. Let them know through your words and actions that you can speak calmly, comfortably and rationally about human issues that affect all of us, namely, curiosity and sexuality. As you initiate discussions about these topics and pornography, share your personal experiences, spiritual values and expectations kindly and thoughtfully, your child will soon get the idea that his parents are human and make mistakes. They will also see that you are ready to talk about “tough” topics and more importantly, listen to them. I promise you as you answer your kids questions openly and sincerely and they will come back to you for your wisdom and empathy.
I also want you to give your kids the idea that there is nothing shameful or “awkward” in asking questions about and discussing one of the most amazing experiences available to human beings: true intimacy expressed through sexuality. By discussing the positive aspects of sex, you can help them know that sexual intimacy is good, beautiful and enjoyable. Follow this up with a discussion about healthy sexuality’s opposite: pornography. Take the time to explain how porn is the opposite of intimacy, can be addictive, can condition the brain, harm relationships and damage a person’s ability to relate and empathize with others.
Finally, if you continue these discussions at each stage of development, your child will get the idea that curiosity is a God-given gift. He will get the idea that his feelings and questions are normal and natural when you let him know that any question is okay and that you will not judge him harshly for asking ANYTHING.
So if you find yourself saying, “I don’t want to give them ideas.” My answer to you is “Yes! Yes you DO want to give them ideas!” By tackling these crucial topics, you and your child will grow closer together and she will know that she can rely on you to provide helpful information in a loving manner. Here are some topics to guide your conversations:
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Protective Information (my body belongs to me, good touch/bad touch, how to say “no”)
Bodily Knowledge (anatomy, functions of anatomy, where do babies come from)
Relationship Basics (self-respect, respect for others, romantic love vs. friendships)
Media Savvy (healthy and unhealthy media messages, body image)
*When your child is ready, discuss the mechanics of sex
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Pornography?
What it is (define it)
Where it exists (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.)
What to do when you see porn (Name it, Get away from it, Tell parents, Discuss feelings with seeing it, Deconstruct the images seen, How to prevent further exposure)
Why it should be avoided
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Sex is healthy and amazing
Intimacy (connecting with another human being) should be the focus
Positive and negative aspects of sex
Protective Information (consent, how predators groom kids/teens)
Bodily Knowledge (puberty, body image, masturbation, mechanics of sex)
Relationship Advice (self-worth, boundaries, healthy vs. abusive relationships)
Media Savvy (healthy/unhealthy media messages, sexting, social media)
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Pornography?