Why Married People Are Happier,
and Better Off Financially
by Linda Waite and
(Doubleday, $37.95, 260 pages).
While Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially may seem a tad shallow in pointing to why marriage is a good thing, it is a wonderful tonic to the cultural illness that views marriage as an outdated, sometimes quaint, sometimes stifling institution. Waite, a University of Chicago sociologist, and Gallagher, Director of the Marriage Program at the Institute for American Values, note that marriage, once “the most basic and universal of human institutions,” has become “something controversial.”
There are many reasons why marriage is held in lower esteem than it has been historically, including but not limited to government programs that make the lives of unmarried people (especially single parents and divorced women) less financially strained; more job opportunities for women and thus less reliance on men; the so-called sexual revolution; the cultural acceptance of single parenthood and co-habitation.
Surely marriage is a good in and of itself. There are Biblical reasons for marriage and certainly marriage is the only morally right way to continue the human species. But we live in a selfish age, and Waite and Gallagher’s genius is to point to the advantageous material and human comforts enjoyed in greater proportion by people who are married. In general, they live longer and healthier lives, are more financially secure, are free to do a better job raising kids, are generally much happier and report greater satisfaction with sex.
Sifting through the extensive studies (there are 40 pages of endnotes and bibliography), the authors find marriage extends an enormous range of benefits that single life and even co-habitation do not. When the benefits to health are considered, marriage could very well be considered a health issue. It appears the stereotypical nagging wife (“Don’t just sit there, get up and do something,” or “Get to the doctor’s”) add as many as 10 years to a married man’s life.
Married people make more money on average and are able to save more. There are many reasons for this including the fact it is cheaper to maintain one house for two (or more) people than two homes for two people because the costs do not double (economists call it economies of scale). But more importantly, people, but men especially, act more responsibly and tend to the habits necessary for gainful employment because the commitment to care for others engenders responsible spending and saving habits.
The feminist attack on marriage is based in large part on the myth that men get the better part of the deal. In the past this might have been true (although based on historical realities women often needed men to survive) and it still may be in some aspects (the health advantages are greater for men than women, but both do experience the benefits of marriage). But legal and social equality have lessened, and continue to lessen, the advantage gap. Furthermore, single life, especially divorced single life, is worse for women when it comes to earning an income and raising children than it is for men.
The benefits of marriage to the wealth, health and happiness of husbands and wives are great, and they are benefits that are not enjoyed by people who are co-habitating. It is not just a matter of living together but the special bonds each partner feels when they have committed themselves to each through marriage. The sense of commitment, the authors argue, has an enormous beneficial impact on the behavior of married people.
Marriage is a good in itself and it engenders responsible and considerate behaviour. Considering the values of our society, however, it may be that by illustrating the long-term benefits of entering into and maintaining a marriage over the short-term and largely illusory pleasures of single life, especially co-habitation, we may once again succeed in winning the argument over the importance of marriage.