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It’s time to face reality: marriage is dying. Divorce rates remain high, fewer couples than ever are choosing to get married, and more are choosing to cohabitate. However, far from liberating adults from old social mores, this shift creates unstable and unhealthy environments for children and adults alike. One does not have to look far to see the threats posed by marriage’s decline.
Marriage affects people on many levels: socially, psychologically, emotionally, and financially, among others. The Institute for American Values recognizes it as a “virtually universal human institution”. Across cultures, one of the most vital elements in marriage is commitment to family. Just as husbands and wives commit themselves totally to each other, they also commit themselves to raising their children together. This responsibility to children is a moral duty that parents must take seriously; generally speaking, in order to thrive and develop properly, a child must see his home as a stable and loving environment, rooted in the relationship between his mother and father. This is best achieved when the mother and father are married, since only marriage represents a complete and lasting commitment to the family.
Today a third of all children live without two married parents at home, depriving them of the benefits of a marriage-based home. Research shows that on average, children who live with their own, married parents are physically healthier and even live longer. Children whose parents divorce show higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness, such as depression. They are also more likely to experience poverty, to be held back a grade, drop out of high school, become unemployed, and have lower occupational status and earnings.
By contrast, children raised in traditional households perform better on a myriad of sociological indices, such as educational achievement, emotional health, familial and sexual development, and child and adult behavior, including rates of delinquency and incarceration. They are also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. As the research institution Child Trends reported, “family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low‐conflict marriage.” Thus, the data exposes the vulnerability of children in the changing landscape of marriage.
Marriage not only serves the needs of children—it is also the best option for couples themselves. In its report “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles,” the Witherspoon Institute found that, compared to people in other relationships, married couples earn more, are physically healthier, and experience much less domestic violence and infidelity. Furthermore, the institute added, “[C]ohabiting couples who go on to marry also face a higher risk of divorce, compared to couples who marry without cohabiting.” The social science is clear: Marriage provides better conditions than any other form of relationship for couples’ well being.
Where does this advantage come from? The answer lies in norms fundamental to the nature of marriage. Ideally, marriage is characterized by permanence and fidelity, which foster a uniquely strong and enduring relationship. Marriage is not merely a union of hearts and minds, nor is it only a romantic or sexual partnership. It is a comprehensive union that unites a husband and wife across all dimensions of the person.
These norms mean that marriage fosters a distinctive stability and provides an extraordinary opportunity for the flourishing of those who enter into it, both as individuals and as a unit. In marriage, a husband and wife share all the challenges and joys of life—especially the burdens and blessings of raising a family—making the former less trying and latter more bountiful. Compare that to schizophrenic lifestyles of casual sex, open relationships, cohabitation, etc., all of which lack the uniting value that makes marriage so fulfilling. These types of relationships are poor imitations of marriage, aiming for fulfillment but flying wildly off the mark.
Marriage is not an anachronism that society has simply outgrown, but it is in danger of becoming a relic of a bygone era. It is the basis for strong, healthy families and the fabric of any strong community. Thus, let us preserve a culture of marriage for ourselves and for future generations. Failure to do so would come at a devastating price.
Luciana E. Milano ‘14 is a government concentrator living in Pforzheimer House. She is co-president of True Love Revolution. James P. McGlone ’15 lives in Grays Hall. He is a member of True Love Revolution.
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