7 Reasons to ‘Get Married’: New Book Highlights Research About Love and Marriage

‘This closing of the American heart is a problem,’ sociologist Brad Wilcox says, offering these takeaways on why marriage tops the ‘I do’ list…

Sociologist Brad Wilcox talks the truth about marriage in his new book out now during National Marriage Week.
Sociologist Brad Wilcox talks the truth about marriage in his new book out now during National Marriage Week. (photo: Courtesy photos / Harper Collins/Brad Wilcox)

In 2023, 28-year-old Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker addressed graduates of his alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology and offered a “controversial antidote” to the “loneliness, anxiety and depression” he believes plagues many young adults: “Get married and start a family.” The Latin Mass-attending Catholic took home his third Super Bowl ring Sunday after kicking the longest field goal in Super Bowl history (57 yards), but stresses that his wedding ring is of much greater importance to him than his Super Bowl rings.

Brad Wilcox, author of the just-released book Get Married, would no doubt agree. Wilcox is a professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia for the past 15 years. He has examined data from seven nationally representative surveys in his research for his book and believes the data reveals “living for ourselves or our jobs (our own happiness and success) is not very likely to bring us to a destination filled with meaning and happiness — whether we are men or women.” Conversely, he has found, “giving ourselves to others — especially spouses and families — is the path most likely to lead to a meaningful and generally happy life for most of us.”

He continues, “Questions of marriage and family are often better predictors of outcomes for people than the topics that currently dominate our public conversation — like race, education, and government spending.”

Wilcox notes that he himself is a Catholic who grew up without a father in his life. Born in 1970 and growing up at a time when the institution of marriage was “crumbling,” he recalled that of five close friends he had growing up, “four ended with parents who parted ways.”

He offers this book to counter this trend; here are seven takeaways from Get Married:

Marriage Is the Bedrock of Society

Citing Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich, Wilcox asserts “the institution of marriage plays a central role in organizing family life, promoting human flourishing, and maintaining order.”

While marriage has had many positive benefits for society, over the past 50 years, “dominant elites have advanced ideas that devalue and demean marriage, cast aside the normative guardrails that forge strong families, passed laws that penalize marriage for the poor andworking class, and superintended the rise of a new economy that benefits them but has put marriage and family life out of reach for millions of their fellow Americans.”

Most Young Adults Today Value Career Over Marriage

“One recent poll found that only 32 percent of young adults ages eighteen through forty think that marriage is essential to living a fulfilling life, compared to 64 percent who think education and 75 percent who think making a good living is crucial to fulfillment.”

This view is reinforced by many parents, 88% of whom believe it is important for their children to be financially independent and have careers they enjoy, while “only 21 percent said it is important their kids get married, and only 20 percent believed it to be important that their kids have children of their own.”

Yet while this is the dominant view among the young, as the years pass, often perceptions begin to change. Wilcox cites the example of 33-year-old Taylor, who focused on a career in digital marketing in her 20s rather than dating and is now concerned for her own prospects of starting a family: “I look back on that [advice to delay dating and marriage] and I’m like, you know, if I could do it again … I would actually focus on finding a husband a little bit earlier.” Her life “doesn’t have a ton of meaning,” she believes, and when she babysits her nephews and nieces, which she loves, it “has left her thinking that she would be more fulfilled if she were married with children,” thinking, “[I]s there a chance that I could have a family of my own right now?”

Fewer Americans Are Marrying

While the divorce rate has declined since 1980, more Americans are opting to remain unmarried. Wilcox notes: “Declines in marriage and increases in divorce mean that slightly less than one in two adults are currently married, down from about 75 percent in 1960.”

This trend is unhealthy, Wilcox notes, “which means that a large minority of contemporary young men and women, perhaps as many as one-third, will never marry.”

“Too many young men and women are closing their hearts to marriage and family life — or are unable to find a partner with whom to forge a family in the first place,” he adds.

“This closing of the American heart is a problem, then; many never-married men and women will end up as unwilling bachelors and bachelorettes, confronting midlife and late life without the benefit of a partner to love and be loved by.”

Stable Marriages Are More Common Among the Well-Off

Strong and stable families remain the norm for the wealthy and well-educated, while “in all too many poor and working-class communities, marriage is disappearing,” Wilcox observes, noting that, across the country, “Higher-income neighborhoods are dominated by two-parent families — with about 80 percent of the families with children in these communities headed by such couples. Lower-income neighborhoods, by contrast, are places where almost 50 percent of families are headed by single parents.”

College-educated Americans and those families earning more than $100,000 annually “are much more likely to live not only in neighborhoods with lots of other educated and affluent people but also in neighborhoods that are dominated by married adults and two-parent families.”

While commentators on the left and right have different explanations as to why this is so, “the bigger point here is that the most popular accounts of marriage and divorce in America often leave us thinking that class is the primary factor determining who is a master of marriage.”

Religious Observance, Ethnicity Predict Marital Success

Americans who regularly attend church are more likely to marry for life. Various studies have shown that “regular churchgoers are between 30 and 50 percent less likely than others to get divorced.”

Commitment to family is stronger in some ethnic communities rather than others, resulting in lower divorce rates in some communities versus others.

Specifically, “only 15 percent of ever-married Asian Americans ages eighteen to fifty-five have divorced, compared to 32 percent of Whites, 29 percent of Hispanics, and 42 percent of African Americans … In other words, familism found in in Asian culture translates, in America, as in Asia, to markedly greater marital stability.”

And, while being a conservative does increase one’s chance of marrying in the first place, “after you’ve tied the knot, it does not much reduce your odds of getting divorced.”

Married Men Tend to Do Better Financially

While popular critics of marriage argue that single men earn better livings than married men, Wilcox asserts that the reverse is often true: Married men “work harder, smarter and more successfully than their peers who are not married. That is because, even today, men still associate marriage with growing up and providing for their own family.”

Marriage cultivates a “responsibility ethic” among men, meaning “married men work more hours, seek out higher-paying jobs, and are generally more reliable employees than their unmarried peers.”

Broken Homes Hurt Children

Children raised by their biological parents in intact homes are happier, do better in school and are more likely to avoid trouble, Wilcox asserts. Children from broken homes are also more likely to be abused: “The research tells us that children who are exposed to high levels of family instability — and especially to unrelated males in the household — are more likely to end up physically, sexually, or emotionally abused and/or neglected.” While some stepparents “do a great job,” Wilcox relates that psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have observed that living “with a stepparent has turned out to be the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse yet.”

Wilcox concludes, “We must push back against a culture that tells our young men and women that money and work are more important than marriage and family” and encourage them to marry and support married couples “to reject the me-first approach to love and marriage built around the distinctive values and virtues embodied by the masters of marriage.”