The benefits of marriage are many and include greater financial stability, health, and happiness
By Deacon Bob Hunt
Last month, I wrote about a new survey showing that fully 80 percent of young adult regular churchgoers come from intact families, where they were raised by their biological parents who are married to each other. This suggests that, if parishes want to turn around the decline in church attendance, a good place to start would be in focusing on ministries that support families: ministries for the engaged, for those who are experiencing trials in their marriages, and for strong marriages to become even stronger.
Just this week, however, I became aware of a trend on the internet of social media “influencers,” especially single women, denigrating marriage and raving about the benefits of the single life. One woman made a video of herself putting on and taking off a wedding ring. Each time she put the ring on, she showed video of her slaving over household chores. The message is clear: get married, and you can expect a life of misery taking care of your husband and children. In another TikTok video, a young woman talks to herself about the freedom of being single. She can drink all she wants, attend concerts, sleep in on weekends, and watch reality TV. Conservative commentator Matt Walsh posted the video, saying, “Her life doesn’t revolve around her family and kids, so instead it revolves around TV shows and pop stars. Worst of all, she’s too stupid to realize how depressing this is.” I can’t knock the life personally. I don’t drink, I haven’t been to a concert in a couple of decades, and I’ve never watched reality TV. But honestly, it does sound depressing and insular.
Critics of this trend speak to how those who relish the single life rarely invest their time in bettering themselves or serving others. Reading, going back to school, improving their skills, and volunteering in their communities are rarely at the top of the list of activities lauded by those disparaging marriage. Instead, it seems to be all about them. This sort of attitude is certainly not conducive to marriage, much less a long and happy one. It’s no surprise that, in 2021, the national marriage rate declined to 14.9, down from 16.3 10 years earlier.
Why the decline of interest in marriage and, now, the denigrating of the institution that stands as the foundation of any civilized society? Some point to the focus on careers and the changing dynamics of male-female relationships. Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and a fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, reports that his conversations among students at UVA indicate that “A lot of young women feel that they don’t have good prospects for dating, that there aren’t guys out there who are worthy of marriage, or worthy of investing in a serious relationship.” This may be because our culture has been dissing on men for several decades now. The stereotype of young adult men dressing down, living in Mom and Dad’s basements, and spending all their time playing video games is not an image of one who is going to attract a great many women, especially since men have been told for some time now that they are not needed by women and have an increasingly small role in the building of a happy society.
Deriding marriage as a happy life choice is not a good thing for society or for the happiness of people. The research supports the notion that, as Mr. Wilcox says, a strong marriage is “the No. 1 predictor of happiness in America today.” The 2022 General Social Survey found that 40 percent of married mothers between the ages of 18-55 report being “very happy.” That is almost double the figure for unmarried women and more than twice that of single mothers. The same held true for married men over their unmarried brothers. This is particularly underscored when the topic of loneliness is studied. The Communio study on which I reported last month showed a large gap between married couples and singles among rates of loneliness in churchgoers. J.P. DeGance, Communio’s president and the author of that study, said, “The most lonely people walking around in our churches, in our communities, are actually not the elderly or widows. It’s men and women in their 30s, who in every other time period . . . would have been overwhelmingly likely to be married.” But they are not married, and the result is tremendous loneliness.
The benefits of marriage are many. People who are married are generally more financially stable, healthier, both physically and mentally, more emotionally supported, less lonely, and happier. All in all, it is a good investment if a good spouse can be found and held on to. The Church ought to be pushing this message, and hard. The benefits, spiritual and communal, will extend far beyond greater church attendance.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.