"The Case for Marriage" (Doubleday) is a new book I co-authored with University of Chicago Professor Linda Waite, whose research on the advantages of marriage over other lifestyles is turning heads and raising scholarly eyebrows: Should we embrace all family forms equally? Do husbands really oppress their wives and hog all the marital goodies? Is it really true that the single life offers more rewards for women than the average, ho-hum marriage?
Well, no, no and no actually. Not if you look at the evidence. Here's the scientific case for marriage in a nutshell: Marriage changes men's and women's lives in powerful ways that other relationships, such as cohabitation, do not. Marriage is not just another lifestyle, but a productive, wealth-creating institution that (like education) builds human and social capital and (like education) therefore deserves public support. Linda Waite and I call for innovative new public and community efforts to strengthen marriage, and reduce divorce.
These days, divorce is too-often framed as the gateway to happiness for adults, which we then argue they must (or must not) sacrifice for their kids' sake. But for some time now I've wondered: Would a lower divorce rate really require such awful sacrifice from adults? "Divorce and be happy or stay married and miserable for the kids' sake" is the way most Americans now frame the question. Put it that way, and just a third of Americans today believe people should stay married for the children's sake.
But what about the other possible outcomes? For example, you might divorce and be miserable, right? That happens. If divorce is such a great way to fulfill yourself, why is it that just 18 percent of divorced persons say they are "very happy"? Why are married women much, much happier than divorced, never-married or even cohabiting women?
Then again, there's that other pesky possibility: Stay married and get happier. In "The Case for Marriage," we did something really new: We looked at what happens to bad marriages that don't end. The turnarounds were shocking: Five years later, 77 percent of very unhappy couples who stayed married called their marriage either "very" or "quite" happy. A bad marriage is not a hard fact. It's a judgment by one person at one moment in time about a future that can change. Just as good marriages go bad, bad marriages can "go good," and they are more likely to do so in a society that strongly prefers marriage to divorce.
This is pretty interesting stuff, right? As is the news that, say, marriage reduces domestic violence, or that three out of 10 middle-aged guys who aren't married will likely die prematurely as a result, to list just two more examples. So it's pretty curious to me that the first two reviews by the cultural elite, one by Nation editor Katha Pollit in Slate and one by Margaret Talbot in the Oct. 1 Sunday New York Times, are not only negative; they actually dismiss "The Case for Marriage" as "old news" about a debate nobody cares about.
Curious, too, that not one but two such prestigious editors assigned the book to writers who have in the past published articles condemning me and anybody else who wants to reduce divorce. Most especially curious that Pollit calls "The Case for Marriage" a "clip job" and Talbot implies (either ignorantly or out of malice) that Linda Waite is just some second-rate ideologue instead of a top scholar. Finally -- curiouser and curiouser, isn't it? -- two such keen intellects cannot seem to locate a marriage debate in America just a few weeks after Time magazine put "Who Needs a Husband?" on the front cover?
All of which makes me wonder: What exactly is it about this new case for marriage that divorce advocates don't want you to hear?