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Sociology of the Family

Ron Hammond, Paul Cheney, Raewyn Pearsey

Chapter 09 - Marriage and Other Long-Term Relationships

As was mentioned in Chapter 6, a couple is simply a pair of people who identify themselves in terms of belonging together, trusting one another, and having a unique relationship, separate from all others. A "We" is close to the same thing, yet it focuses on the relationship as an entity in itself. A "We" as shown in Figure 1 is a married couple, but it can also include cohabiters or other intimate non-married couple arrangements. This is a relationship that is not intimately connected to any other relationships at the same profound level as these two partners are connected to one another.

Figure 1. The "We" As It Relates to a Married Couple
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Here is a metaphor: A "We" is much like a vehicle (relationship) that two people purchased together. Both have to put in maintenance. Both have to care for it and treat it in such a way that it runs for a long time. Sometimes, spouses or partners attack their mates in such a way that the other's trust is harmed or damaged. A "We" is the social and emotional boundary a couple establishes when they decide to become a couple. This boundary includes only the husband and wife. It purposefully excludes the children, extended family, co-workers, and friends. Most couples who establish a strong marital bond have successfully distinguished themselves as a "We" and partially disengaged from the existing relationships of child, grandchild, best friends, etc. That is not to say that you cut your parents, relatives, and other friends off. You just have to establish a new exclusive intimacy that only includes you and your spouse (See Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, 1995, The Good Marriage, Warner Pub.)

This also means making certain things into Spouse-only Issues, which are the decisions, advice, and discussion that are held exclusively between partners and intentionally NOT between other family and friends. This might include types of birth control, how to run a budget, sexual techniques and practices, who might be at fault in an argument, etc. If a couple marries in their late 20s, then they have a lifelong history of intimate help-seeking and advice-giving relationships with others. These may continue as long as the help-seeking behavior doesn't violate the intimate agreements of confidentiality for each spouse or partner. I must emphasize how crucial it is to form the "We" so that married couples avoid the damaging intrusions of family and friends into their new marriage.

Marriage is the formal, state licensed and legal union between people whereas cohabitation is informal and based on simply sharing a residence. Internationally and in certain U.S. political regions, a man and another man or a woman and another woman can be legally recognized as a married couple. What are typical marriage structures? The U.S. and worldwide culturally preferred marriage type today is monogamy. Monogamy is the marriage form permitting only one spouse at a time. Almost all marriages in the U.S. have been monogamous since the original colonies in the 1600s. Monogamy implies a 1:1 relationship and is typically desired both by married couples and by opposite and same-sex cohabiters.

Cohabitation is the heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual moving in together of two partners without going through the formalities of legal marriage. Although similar in form and function, cohabitating couples live differently in many significant day-to-day aspects when compared to married couples. Also, many cohabiting couples eventually choose to marry, but their risk of divorce is higher than among couples that never cohabited. Cohabitation will be discussed more below, but it has been increasingly popular over the last 30 years. There has been a marked increase of non-married cohabiting couples over the last few decades. There were 7,845,000 million heterosexual cohabiters and about 687,000 same-sex couples (retrieved 6 June 2014 SOURCE ).

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Multiple spouses at the same time was practiced for a few decades by members of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Mormons." But, they ceased polygamy in 1890 and any current Mormons who try to marry into polygamous relationships are excommunicated. There are groups who split off from the Mormons who continue the practice of polygamy using century-old themes of Mormon doctrine and culture.

Polygamy is a marriage form permitting more than one spouse at the same time. Polygyny is marriage form permitting more than one wife at the same time and is the most common form of polygamy in the world's history. Polygamy is still common and legal in many African, Middle-Eastern, Muslim, and Indian nations. It is a deep part of China's history, and prior to World War II it was common for a Chinese man to have multiple wives and many children.

A former student of mine came to class and spoke to me about her polygamous father. He raised her in a group that broke away from the Mormon congregation in the 1890s and formed its own polygamy-based religion. She came to guest lecture to my class and described her 45 siblings, 32 brothers- and sisters-in-law, 180 cousins, 32 second cousins, and typical meals at home of 40-53 family members per meal three times per day. Figure 2 shows her rough-sketched family genogram. (She asked me to conceal identifiable aspects of her family so that they may be spared any ridiculing comments or embarrassment. Her group is not the same group that the convicted former leader Warren Jeffs led. My student knew of him, but her family was governed by different leaders). To read the latest news about the polygamist group formerly led by Warren Jeffs search his name on Google .

My student’s father biologically fathered about 46 children. He married his 16-year-old first wife in 1948 and had 16 children with her. Eleven years later he married his 21-year-old second wife and had 13 children with her. Eight years later he married an 18-year-old third wife and fathered 10 children with her. He then was asked to marry a 36-year-old divorcee who had 6 children from another marriage, and they had one child together. He then married a 26-year-old and her 45-year-old sister, who were widowed from the same husband. They together brought in 3 children from other marriages. He had 6 more children with his sixth wife. About 9 children are unrelated but consider him to be a fatherly figure. Interestingly, only 3 of all these children chose to marry into polygamous relationships. When I asked my student why, she simply replied, "It's just too much work these days and it's not worth it to them."

Her most peculiar adjustment at our university was learning to date guys her age. In her culture, 20-somethings typically looked to marry 30- to 50-somethings (I know it seems gross to us, but it is their cultural way). She felt that guys her age were like annoying brothers. Two of her brothers have multiple girlfriends on and off again but have no marriage relationships. She also said that the wives in her family called each other sister wives, and the first wife had the most authority. She felt that it was a cool thing to have 6 mothers, although she made it clear that 2 were not very affectionate.

Figure 2. The Polygamist Family Genogram of Ron's Student.
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Polyandry is a marriage form permitting more than one husband at the same time. This is historically and currently rare, and if or when it was practiced, it often included the marriage of one wife to a set of brothers, who all then had sexual access to the wife. Polyandry was found among some Pacific Island cultures in Africa, and scattered throughout tribal histories in many other parts of the world SOURCE.

What if a person marries, divorces, marries, divorces, etc.? Serial Monogamy or Serial Polygamy is the process of establishing an intimate marriage or cohabiting relationship that eventually dissolves and is followed by another intimate marriage or cohabiting relationship that eventually dissolves, etc., in a series. So, polygamists have simultaneous multiple spouses while serial monogamists or serial polygamists have multiple spouses in a sequence of relationships. Millions of U.S adults will experience serial marriages and divorces. It often amazes me how much we love marriage in the United States. Many marry then divorce yet still want to be married again. Many others who suffered through their parents' unhealthy marriages and divorces also want to marry, knowing first-hand how risky that might be.

Traditional roles of men and women influence how the power and marriage work out in society. Typically and throughout history families have been Patriarchal Families, meaning that males have more power and authority than females and that rights and inheritances typically pass from fathers to sons. It should be mentioned that many family power structures still lean heavily toward male power.

Matriarchal Families are families in which females have more power and authority than males and rights and inheritances pass from mothers to daughter and sons. In matriarchal families, the mother is not only the social and emotional force of the family but also the economic force. More and more in the U.S., families are leaning toward Egalitarian Families, which are families with power and authority more fairly distributed between husband and wife.

On 26 June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. Typically, states register couples for legal marriage and now all states must allow heterosexual, lesbian and gay couples the right to marry. The power held by states to legalize the economic, social, spiritual, emotional, or physical union or disunion of a man and a woman is not only traditional but also enduring in U.S. history. Centuries and millennia ago, fathers, clan or kinship leaders, religious leaders, and community members had the rights to marriage that are now claimed by the state or nation. True, states don't get involved in the spiritual or physical union, they just license it or legalize it the same way they license drivers or certify the legal sale of property. Almost every year in the U.S., there are about two legally sanctioned state marriages for every one legally sanctioned state divorce decree.

In Figure 3 below you can see just how many legal marriages were granted per divorce for the years 2000-2011. These numbers are presented in a constant rate of events/1,000 population members. You can quickly see that there were twice as many marriages in 2000 as divorces (8.2 marriage and 4.0 divorce rates respectively). By the year 2011 marriage rates had declined to the degree that the rates were only 6.8 marriage and 3.6 divorce rates.

During those same years, the US population grew by 9.7 percent adding about SOURCE. That meant an increase of over 29 million in the population SOURCE. Yet, both the actual rate and numbers of marriages declined and the rate and numbers of divorces declined over the same time period 2000-2011. What does this mean? You see, the US did have more people living in it in 2011, but fewer of them are marrying and those who are married were divorcing at a lower rate than before.

For decades, newscasters and educators have warned that one in two marriages "end in divorce." Sounds frightening, doesn't it? Is it true? Not really, since divorce never reached the actual 50 percent mark. Based on surveys of exactly how many people have ever been divorced in their lifetimes, most who study the family, specifically the divorce process will tell you that actual divorce risk are closer to 43 percent (see article called "Research on Divorce: Continuing Trends and New Developments" by Paul R. Amato in the Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (June 2010): 650 – 665; DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00723.x ).

Figure 3. Marriage and Divorce Rates in the US per 1,000 Population*
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*retrieved 24 June 2014 from US Center for Disease Control National Marriage and Divorce trends http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts annual surveys of the U.S. population and publishes them as the Current Population Surveys. Table 1 represents the U.S. Family Types as of October 1, 2011. You will notice that marrieds comprise the largest proportion of family types in 2011 at 52 percent followed by the divorced at 10 percent, widowed at 6 percent and separated at only 2 percent. Single never marrieds are the second largest category at 26.7 percent and cohabitors are at 3 percent for heterosexual and 0.3 percent for homosexual couples who are not legally married, but are counted by the US Census Bureau as being couples.

Table 1. US Family Types: Numbers and Percentages in 2011*
Types Numbers Percentages
Married 123,879,000 52.0%
Widowed 14,263,000 6.0%
Divorced 24,432,000 10.0%
Separated 5,501,000 2.0%
Never Married Single 67,278,000 26.7%
Same-sex Cohabitors 687,000 0.3%
Heterosexual Cohabitors 7,845,000 3.0%
Total Families age 15 and older 243,858,000 100.0%
*retrieved 124 June 2014 from US Census Table A 1 "Marital Status of people 15 years and over by age, sex, personal earnings, race, and Hispanic origin/1, 2011 SOURCE and SOURCE

Robert and Jeanette Lauer are a husband-wife team who have not only studied the family but have written a college textbook called Marriage and Family: The Quest for Intimacy (2009, Cengage). They studied the commitment and endurance of married couples and identified 29 factors among couples who had been together for 15 years or more. They found that both husbands and wives reported as their number 1 and 2 factors that "My spouse is my best friend and I like my spouse as a person" (see Robert Lauer, 'Til Death Do Us Part: How Couples Stay Together, 1986 and also Google "Lauer and Lauer" and "Kerr"). The Lauers also studied the levels of commitment couples had to their marriage. The couples reported that they were in fact committed to and supportive of not only their own marriage but marriage as an institution.

Irreconcilable differences are common to marriage, and the basic strategy to deal with them is to negotiate as much as is possible, accept the irresolvable differences, and finally live happily with them. Keeping a positive outlook on your marriage is essential. As was mentioned above, as long as a couple is married they are technically at risk of divorce. But, not all divorce risks are created equally. Newly married couples in their first 10 years together have a great deal of adjustment to work through, especially during the first 36 months. They have new boundaries and relationships to establish. They have to get to know one another and negotiate agreements about the: who, what, why, and how of their day-to-day lives together. The longer they stay together, the lower their risks of divorce. Most U.S. marriages last a long time (see discussion below).

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, two young people may marry at 18 without parental consent in 49 states (SOURCE). In Mississippi they'd have to be at least 21 years old to marry without their parents' permission. Individuals who marry in their teens (even 17, 18, & 19) have much higher rates of marital dissolution. Some argue that this might be because the individuals continue to change up until about age 25-26, when they are fully psychologically mature. Try to remember who you thought was attractive your senior year in high school. Would you still find them attractive today? Some who marry in their teens actually outgrow one another, including their loss of attraction that stems from their changed tastes. Couples who married as teenagers must unite as they take into account their ongoing maturation and change in tastes. When marital data is collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, it often shows that those marrying in their teen years have the highest rates of having ever been divorced. Perhaps the divorce rate is lower than before because people are waiting longer before they marry. Figure 4 shows the US median age at marriage between the years 1890 and 2013.For both men (median age was 29.0) and women (median age was 26.6) the median age at marriage is higher than ever recorded for the United States.

Figure 4 US Median Age at Marriage for Men and Women 1890 and 2013*
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*retrieved on 24 June 2014 US Census Bureau Figure MS-2 Median age at first marriage by sex: 1890-2013 SOURCE

As is mentioned above, most unwed mothers end up marrying the biological father of their baby. These marriages end in divorce more often than marriages for non-pregnant newlyweds. The existence of children at the time of the wedding is often associated with higher divorce rates.

Family Scientists have borrowed from the physics literature a concept called Entropy, which is roughly defined as the principle that matter tends to decay and reduce, toward its simplest parts. For example, a new car, if parked in a field and ignored, would eventually decay and rot. A planted garden, if left unmaintained, would be overrun with weeds and pests and yield low if any crop.

Marital Entropy is the principle that if a marriage does not receive preventative maintenance and upgrades it will move towards decay and break down. Couples who take ownership of their marriage and who realize that marriage is not a state of constant bliss (nothing really is) and that it often requires much work will experience more stability and strength when they nurture their marriage. They treat their marriage like a nice car and become committed to preventing breakdowns rather than waiting to repair them. These couples read and study experts like Gottman, Cherlin, Popenoe, Amato, Hawkins, and others who have focused their research on how to care for the marriage, acknowledging the propensity relationships have to decay if unattended.

Many individuals struggle to completely surrender their single status. They mentally remain on the marriage market in case "someone better than their current spouse comes along." Norval Glenn in 1991 argued that many individuals see marriage as a temporary state while they keep an eye open for someone better. "More honest vows would often be 'as long as we both shall love' or 'as long as no one better comes along'" (p. 268). Glenn gets at the core of the cultural values associated with risks of divorcing. (See Norval D. Glenn, "The Recent Trend in Marital Success in the United States," Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 53(2): May 1991, p. 261-270.)

One recent study published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at a scientifically obtained sample of the US population using a longitudinal tracking survey to follow their marital histories. They reported on the marriage outcomes of people who had reached the age of 46 in the US. The findings suggested that by age 46 there were 86.8 percent of the sample who had married and 53 percent were still married and 44.8 percent who had ever been divorced. Among those who had divorced, their first marriages lasted an average of 9.2 years; 65.7 percent of these divorced people remarried, taking an average of 4.3 years to remarry; and 62 percent of them were still in their second marriage. These second marriages lasted an average of 6.6 years(retrieved 24 June 2014 from Table 3. Marriage outcomes by age 46 by gender, race/ethnicity and educational attainment SOURCE ). Figure 5 shows the influence gaining and education has on marital experiences. In the blue bars, you can see the percent ever marrying which is the highest among those who graduated with their Bachelor’s degree or higher. The green bar shows the percent still in their first marriage and it is significantly higher for college graduates. The red bar shows the percent ever divorced which is significantly lower for college graduates. Without exception, the higher your education, the greater your marriage success.

Figure 5. Marital History from BLS Longitudinal Survey of Youth Year 1979*
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*retrieved 24 June 2014 from October 2013 Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), this article examines marriages and divorces of young baby boomers born during the 1957–1964 period. The article presents data on marriages and divorces by age, gender, race, and Hispanic origin, as well as by educational attainment. Table 4. "Marriage outcomes by age 46 by gender and educational attainment SOURCE.

It is realistic to assume that you will likely have an overall positive marriage that is likely to be a rewarding and enjoyable relationship. There is a catch though. Your marriage will be as positive and rewarding as each of you chooses it to be. The days of traditional marriage being supported by other social institutions such as: schools, religion, government, media, economy, education, and technology are long since gone (if they ever were fully supportive of it is still under debate). The responsibility for a rewarding and happy relationship, in which ever form you decide to experience it, depends almost exclusively upon your personal-level, ongoing, persistent, proactive, and devoted efforts toward the quality of the relationship.

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Be hopeful and positive on the quality and duration of your marriage, because the odds are still in your favor. You've probably seen commercials where matchmaking websites strut their success in matching people to one another. There have been a few criticisms of online marital enhancement services, but millions of people have used them. Along, with DVDs, talk CDs, self-help books, and seminars, there are many outlets for marital enhancement available to couples who seek them. Very few know that there is now a website that offers support to marrieds who want to be proactive and preventative in their relationship.

Doing your homework cannot be emphasized enough in the mate-selection process. The old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" truly does apply to mate selection. Taking your time, understanding yourself, waiting until you are 20-something or older, and finding a good friend in your spouse can make all the difference in the marital experience you have. Keep in mind that very few people marry someone they meet as strangers (even though I did). Most of us end up marrying someone we find through our social networks, such as work, campus, dorms, frats and sororities, friends of friends, and other relationship-based connections. If you are female, there are an abundance of males because the country currently has a Marriage Squeeze, which is a shortage of males or females in the marriage market. There are 10-14 extra U.S. men for every 100 women in the prime marriage years. This has been the case since the 1980s (Web Search on "U.S. Marriage Squeeze").

Marriage is still very popular among U.S. adults, in part because it does offer many rewards that unmarried people don't enjoy. A sociologist named Linda Waite co-wrote a book with Maggie Gallagher called The Case For Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (2001, Doubleday). As its title implies, this book summarizes basic trends that have been found among married people for decades. Marriage has become socially controversial in part because of the intense political efforts to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Regardless of your moral position on the issue of same-sex marriage, you can see the political quest for it as an indicator of just how rewarding it is to be legally a "married couple."

There are numerous studies and books on the benefits of marriage to married individuals. Table 2 lists 10 categories of these known benefits for you to consider.

Table 2. Ten Benefits of Being Married in Contrast to Being Single
  1. Better physical and emotional health
  2. More wealth and income
  3. Positive social status
  4. More and safer sex
  5. Lifelong continuity of intimate relationships
  6. Safer circumstances for children
  7. Longer life expectancy
  8. Lower odds of being crime victims
  9. Enhanced legal and insurance rights and benefits (tax, medical, and inheritance)
  10. Higher self-reported happiness

Keep in mind as you think about this, that a toxic marriage has never been universally shown to be better than being unmarried or never married. It would be unwise to marry carelessly. It would also be unwise to think that once you marry you are at the end of your problems. A newlywed once said to her mother, "Now that I'm married, I'm at the end of all my problems." Her mother wisely replied, "Which end, dear?" Marriage requires preventative, proactive, consistent, and timely maintenance to be rewarding and satisfying. The bottom line is that the burden of your marital quality falls to you and your spouse.

Cohabitation has been studied extensively for the last three decades, especially the propensity (likelihood) of cohabiters eventually marrying their partner. Clear findings consistently show that cohabiting and marriage are two different creatures and that economics play a major role in the transition from cohabitation to marriage. In 2013 the U.S. Center for Disease Control reported that cohabitation is very common in our day:

"Forty-eight percent of women interviewed in 2006–2010 cohabited with a partner as a first union, compared with 34% of women in 1995. Between 1995 and 2006–2010, the percentage of women who cohabited as a first union increased for all Hispanic origin and race groups, except for Asian women. In 2006–2010, 70% of women with less than a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared with 47% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher."
"First premarital cohabitations were longest for foreign-born Hispanic women (33 months) and shortest for white women (19 months). In 2006–2010, 40% of first premarital cohabitations among women transitioned to marriage by 3 years, 32% remained intact, and 27% dissolved. Nearly 20% of women experienced a pregnancy in the first year of their first premarital cohabitation."
"Economic circumstances are related to the marriage decision-making process. Transitions to marriage are more likely for cohabiting women with higher levels of education and income than for cohabiting women of lower socioeconomic status. Economic barriers to marriage are particularly significant for cohabiting women with children. Other factors that influence the progression from cohabitation to marriage include relationship commitment and attitudes toward marriage (retrieved 24 June 2014 from First Premarital Cohabitation in the United States: 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth by Casey E. Copen, Ph.D.; Kimberly Daniels, Ph.D.; and William D. Mosher, Ph.D., Division of Vital Statist No. 64 4 April 2013 SOURCE )."

There have been a few large-scale studies which measured how long first cohabitation relationships lasted until the breakup. The same report mentioned in the quotation above reported that based on complex life-table analysis (used to predict life expectancies) about 42 percent of cohabiting women transitioned to marriage in 3 years of cohabiting; 32 percent remained together as a couple; and 27 percent had broken up (Table A. Median duration of first premarital cohabitation among women aged 15–44: United States, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010, page 5).

David Popenoe reported on attitudes about cohabitation and said that most teenagers report the belief that living together before marrying is a good (D. Popenoe, 2009, "Cohabitation, Marriage, and Child Wellbeing: A Cross-National Perspective," Social Sci. and Public Policy, Vol 46: 429-436). Generally speaking, cohabiting relationships are much more unstable than married ones (Popenoe, 2009; K. Williams et al, 2008, "For Better or For Worse? The Consequences of Marriage and Cohabitation for Single Mothers," Social Forces, Vol. 86, No. 4[June], p. 1481-1511). Popenoe is very clear about his argument that cohabiting is not as healthy in terms of the well-being of children as marriage has proven to be. He also identifies the trend of unmarried pregnancies that come with cohabitation trends. Others have discussed the issue of cohabitation as a predictor of later divorce for those who ever cohabited. It has been argued that those who cohabit have less clarity on the intention and direction of the relationship than do marrieds. Also, people who cohabit then later marry are more likely to divorce than those who never cohabited.

Not all cohabitation experiences are the same. There are people who cohabit more than once. Serial Cohabiters are persons who have a series of cohabiting relationships over the course of time. These persons tend to be poorer and less educated in the U.S. When or if these persons ever marry, their divorce risks are more than twice as high as those who never cohabited in a series (see D.T. Lichter and Z. Qian, 2008, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 70, No. 4[Nov.], p. 861-878).

So what are the 60-year trends of marital status in the United States? Figures 6a and 6b show that there is an identifiable increase in men and women who are divorced at the time of the survey. There is a slight decline in those who are widowed (green) even when accounting for the US Gulf Wars. There is a sizable increase of single never-marrieds (red) that can be explained by the increases in median age at marriage. And finally, there are fewer and fewer married men and women (blue).

Figure 6a. United States 1950-2013 Men’s Marital Status (15 and over)*
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*Taken from United States Census Bureau on 23 May 2014 from Table MS-1a and MS-1b. Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and over, by Sex and Race: 1950 to Present SOURCE Figure 6b. United States 1950-2013 Women’s Marital Status (15 and over)*
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*Taken from United States Census Bureau on 23 May 2014 from Table MS-1a and MS-1b. Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and over, by Sex and Race: 1950 to Present SOURCE

Finally, there are known benefits to being married in a long-term relationship rather than being single, divorced, cohabiting, or other. Table 3 shows a quote taken from the cohabitation and marriage study referenced above called Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. Better mental and physical health with better medical insurance coverage proves to be a crucial quality-of-life factor for marrieds. As far as children are concerned, having better care and better adult outcomes among married people's children is also a crucial factor for parents and children.

Table 3. Health* Benefits Known to Be an Advantage Among Married Persons in the U.S.*
  1. Generally better mental and physical health outcomes compared with unmarried persons
  2. longer lives
  3. Higher rates of health insurance coverage
  4. Lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease than unmarried persons
  5. Better health and well-being of children
  6. Children born to unmarried mothers are at greater risk for poverty, teen childbearing, poor school achievement, and marital disruption in adulthood than children born to married mothers
*Direct quote from Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth, Retrieved 23 March 2010 www.cdc.gov. p. 12

There are also known financial benefits when comparing married to not-marrieds. More wealth accumulation, higher assets, and higher monthly income are consistent among marrieds (see the State of Our Unions for summary http://www.stateofourunions.org/2012/SOOU2012.pdf see also Current Population Survey data SOURCE ).

Table 4 summarizes the known benefits to marrieds over non-marrieds that have been established through numerous studies over the last three decades. Married people are safer and less prone to get into trouble than others. There is a buffering effect that accompanies having a lifelong devoted spouse who helps deflect stress and hardships on a daily basis, thus some of the health benefits of longer life, less suicide, more stable health coverage, and less illness and addiction.

Also, marrieds have more social support, more continuity in long-term relationships, and especially more closeness for men in intimate family relationships. Husbands are less likely to abuse and be violent toward their wives than are boyfriends and partners. Married people have clear lifelong goals and tend to buy homes, invest, and plan for retirement more than others. The government and military recognize spouses and reward them with tax breaks, benefits, and other sources of coverage and support more than others. In later life, many elderly report that their family relationships are very supportive and important to them. Studies show that the elderly enjoy their human investment in their children and grandchildren that yields emotional and social rewards throughout their golden years.

Table 4. Known Benefits Enjoyed by Married Couples in Comparison to Non-Married Persons
  1. Less likely to become victims of crime
  2. Less likely to commit crimes
  3. Less addiction
  4. Fewer accidents (especially among men)
  5. Less suicide
  6. Better stress management because spouse is a buffer to life's stresses
  7. More social and emotional support (less loneliness)
  8. More intimate connections to family members
  9. Long-term continuity in family relationships of children, in-laws, grandchildren, etc.
  10. Lower risk of domestic violence for women
  11. Longer life expectancies
  12. More and better self-rated sex
  13. More emotional and financial security (for both spouses)
  14. Less uncertainty about direction of life and goals
  15. More cost effective to live in married versus single circumstances
  16. Tax deductions
  17. More military benefits
  18. More accumulated belongings and investments
  19. More medical benefits
  20. More legal rights

Additional Reading

University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project free report called, "The State of Our Unions"

Which marital status is the safest/healthiest?

20 Year study of Marital Quality Journal of Marriage and Family Volume 75, Issue 3, pages 667–680, June 2013 Marital Quality and Health Over 20 Years: A Growth Curve Analysis Richard B. Miller1,*, Cody S. Hollist2,†, Joseph Olsen3,‡ and David Law4,§ Article first published online: 20 MAY 2013 DOI: 10.1111/jomf.12025

Other study of marital quality and health The longitudinal associations between marital happiness, problems, and self-rated health. Proulx, Christine M.; Snyder-Rivas, Linley A. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 27(2), Apr 2013, 194-202. doi: 10.1037/a0031877 SOURCE

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