Save America! Get married. Stay married.

Disasters are the chief currency of news media, as daily alarms about the effects of climate change or the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States again illustrate.

But there is one catastrophe they will never mention: the decades-long train wreck of marriage and family life that is happening in the US and nations like it.

The beginnings and ends of celebrity marriages are always good for a magazine story, but the eclipse of society’s most fundamental institution in large swathes of society is either ignored by the dominant media or dismissed by their contributors as mere social change.

The truth is, it’s up there with the climate apocalypse, a threat to civilisation as we know it, according to the title of a new book by Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology and director the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Get Married, he exhorts his countrymen, adding, Why Americans must defy the elites, forge strong marriages, and save civilisation (released today, just in time for Valentine’s Day).

Though he is talking primarily to Americans the rest of us should listen up, because the greater part of the world is in the same boat.

Missing kin and the lonely future

Marriage rates have plummeted. Demographers predict that less than 70 percent of today’s young adult Americans will be married by age 40. Fertility in the US has dropped to an historic low of 1.6 children per woman; already one-third of women have either no children or just one.

Wilcox warns:

“The American heart is closing before our very eyes. Our civilization is in the midst of an epochal shift, a shift away from marriage and all the fruits that follow from this most fundamental social institution: children, kin, financial stability, and innumerable opportunities to love and be loved by another. 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.”

In a recent poll that he cites, only 32 percent of young adults thought marriage was essential to a fulfilling life; education and making a good living were at least twice as important. No wonder, when 88 percent of parents in a similar Pew poll considered financial independence as important while a mere 20 percent ticked the marriage or having children boxes.

Why? Because virtually all the messages they receive from the media and entertainment barons, the ivory tower and cultural influencers, from government policy and the corporate world, tell them that marriage doesn’t matter. First things first: work, money, self-fulfilment. Love and marriage can wait and, really, you could be happier going it alone.

It’s a big lie, and the scandal is that the elites know it, because they are the ones who still get married and reap the benefits. But for some reason they want to keep these for themselves.

Enough, says Wilcox. As a husband, father, teacher of young people and respected social scientist, he wants young people to know the truth about marriage.

Marriage and happiness: the secret is out

More than two decades of his work on this topic, yielding “mountains of data”, he writes, proves that “the happiest, least lonely, and most financially secure people in America today are those who are in stable marriages—and the happiest children with the best outcomes are in married families.”

The happiness part was confirmed last week by two new pieces of research. A University of Chicago study found a 30 percent happiness gap between married and unmarried Americans. And a Gallup Poll of 2.5 million adults in the US from 2009 to 2023 consistently reported happiness levels 12 to 24 percent higher than the unmarried.

Like their elders, younger generations of college-educated Americans also know this, and in the past two decades they have returned to marriage. But they don’t like to talk about it because it might seem judgemental and it doesn’t jibe with their liberal-left values.

If the happiness premium of marriage has been the best kept secret in America lately, the cat is now out of the bag. Get Married shares it with everyone.

In 11 highly readable chapters Wilcox lays out the data, along with graphs, 40 case studies from face-to-face interviews, examples from public life (for example, the Obamas) pop culture (Marriage Story), and his own very relevant experience of family life, including being raised by a single (widowed) mother.

The good news is that many of those college-educated Americans are not only getting married but staying married. Almost 90 percent of the children of these marriages are raised in largely intact families. And it’s not all down to education and money.

The ‘masters of marriage’

Culture matters a lot, so it’s not surprising that Asian Americans, with their strong family norms, lead Wilcox’s list of “masters of marriage”. Indians (from India) are the standouts in resisting divorce: 94 percent of Indian parents are stably (if not always happily) married, compared with 64 percent of American parents in general.

They are followed by Conservatives, the Faithful, and Strivers – the last often secular and left-leaning but family-centred. Conservatives’ traditional family values stand them in good stead, more so if they are also religious (the Faithful).

Contrary to research that purports to show the opposite (and will always get headlines), Wilcox says “the science could not be clearer” concerning the positive effects of faith and religious practice on marriage stability and happiness. This is especially so when both husband and wife practise their faith together. There is a wonderful chapter explaining all this titled, “In God We Trust”.

But first, the author demolishes four myths that have undermined marriage over the last five decades. Namely: men and women are better off going it alone (Flying Solo); families come in all shapes and sizes and are all equal (Family Diversity); if you do want to marry, it’s about finding the one person who can make you feel happy all the time (Soulmates); kids, however, will make you miserable (The Parent Trap).

How the ’soulmate’ myth ruins marriage

It seems that the soulmate myth, so evident in popular culture, has been the most corrosive of marriage. A product of the expressive individualism that puts “self” first in the pursuit of happiness, it inevitably disappoints. Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame has been through four soulmates since she left her first husband, Wilcox points out, and at last count was a single 50-something. A caution, one hopes, to her fans.

Her path illustrates something called “the paradox of marital happiness”: those who prioritise marital happiness the most are the least likely to find it. Family first, me second, is the paradoxical route to happiness in marriage, as Wilcox explains in a chapter titled “We Before Me”.

The importance of a commitment that rules out divorce from the get-go, and the continuing currency of complementary gender roles (no, most married women do not want a 50-50 split of the chores, though they do want their spouse affectionate and family oriented) are the subjects of other chapters.

Once again, the college-educated are onto these values, and there has been a “deep decline” in their divorce rate since 1980.

 

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The unmarried, and the elites’ part in their downfall

But what about the others, the forgotten millions who are missing out on marriage, thanks, in no small measure, to the hypocrisy of the elites? Wilcox is indignant at irresponsibility of the latter and takes aim at them in a final, passionate chapter, “Orphaned: How our political class fails the American family”.

From the “China shock” of the 2000s that threw millions of men across America out of work, to the anything-goes Netflix shows making a farce of marriage; from an education system that fails men at every level, to marriage penalties in the tax and welfare system, the decisions of the elites have thoroughly undermined working-class family life.

Good jobs, not just cheap goods, are fundamental to strong and stable families, yet millions of fathers have only part-time work and can no longer adequately provide for their families. (And, no, this not an opportunity for gender equality in marriage: more than 70 percent of “breadwinner moms” are single parents on low wages.)

Millions more men have no job at all. Among the less educated, writes Wilcox, around 16 million men have completely left the workforce and are therefore “distant from the discipline, direction and dividends of full-time work.” They are also out of luck when it comes to marriage, since women still prefer to “marry up” with a good provider.

The crying need is for family-centred public policy, yet neither “Nikki Haleyism” nor “Bidenism” gets family policy right. Wilcox proposes five key policy ideas that would begin to restore the fortunes of the working-class family. More college and more childcare are not among them.

For ordinary men and women who want a stable and happy marriage, he draws “five pillars” from the masters of marriage playbook: Communion (we before me); Children (prioritise their welfare); Commitment (keep divorce off the table); Cash (men who are good providers are most attractive to women and their “unequal” contribution works); Community (surround yourself with family and friends who take marriage seriously).

And there’s a sixth “C” – Courage! Because that’s what it takes to defy elite wisdom.

Brad Wilcox should know, since it’s the story of his own career. Not just his own fortunate students, but every American adolescent, at least, should have access to the real wisdom he communicates so clearly in this excellent book.  


Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of Mercator.

Image credit: Bigstock   


 

Showing 21 reactions

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  • Trotsky Lives!
    commented 2024-03-01 15:12:45 +1100
    I’m so, so happy that somebody else around here believe in the Binary. Thanks, guys.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-01 12:59:23 +1100
    I’m always more comfortable being the baddie.
  • Malcolm McLean
    commented 2024-03-01 11:50:39 +1100
    Ah, and that indicates that maybe my judgement is wrong, and maybe you are not one of the goodies after all, and in fact you are baddie. And I won’t say I am now infallible and must be right, but generally the goodies don’t like it very much when the baddies kill babies.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-01 11:03:08 +1100
    So the baddies are the people who are railing against non-existent enemies like the “woke monster” or who are deeply concerned about the welfare of children provided the children are “unborn”?
  • Malcolm McLean
    commented 2024-03-01 10:47:05 +1100
    There are two sides. “We” means the goodies, and “they” means the baddies. And “we” is intended to include you, and this constitues an invitation to join in the fight.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-01 10:21:36 +1100
    Who is the “we” and “they”.

    There are always fringe groups about everything. But I don’t know of any sizeable and influential groups that are anti-marriage.

    Note the words “sizeable and influential”.
  • Malcolm McLean
    commented 2024-03-01 00:15:55 +1100
    So we believe in marriage and they do not. But actually they are getting married and having successful marriages, whilst we are not, and what are going to make of that?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-20 14:54:34 +1100
    mrscracker wrote:

    “Which media source we’re informed by can shape our perspectives.”

    Not that simple. Media outlets are in competition for eyeballs and eardrums. And they will publish whatever they judge their audiences want to hear.

    The difference between Fox and msnbc is that they are catering to different audiences.

    But then it becomes a mutually reinforcing cycle. Msnbc audiences want their outlet to reflect a certain world view. Msnbc duly dishes that out reinforcing the prior beliefs of their audience. After a while both the audience and msnbc are trapped in the same news universe. The audience won’t budge so msnbc can’t.

    The same applies to Fox, cnn, Newsmaxtv etc.

    Of course this does vary between different media outlets. The UK Financial Times is probably the most objective English Language media outlet because it’s audience, above all, wants objective news. If it tried the shenanigans of Fox or cnn their audience would dump them.

    How they did this is interesting. At the beginning of the internet era they took a gamble that there were people who were prepared to pay for objective news in print form. So they charge, heavily. That makes them less reliant on ads.

    Their most expensive print premium digital – no hard copy, no video – is US$65 per month.

    Their articles are well written but they’re definitely not easy reads. Unless you have a certain background in business and tech you’d struggle to understand them.

    Important Note: This does not mean they’re always right or always completely objective. But compared to the mass media it’s like a Rolls Royce compared to a second hand 1960s era Ford Galaxie rust bucket.
  • mrscracker
    I’m very glad to hear that you love children Mr. Bunyan. I do also.
  • mrscracker
    Thank you for sharing that. Politics & current events can be different things. Which media source we’re informed by can shape our perspectives. Most US media providers have the same advertisers & age group audiences. They just offer slightly different flavored narratives.

    Family history is pretty interesting & full of surprises.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-16 13:47:06 +1100
    mrscracker,

    “Mr. Steven, have you relocated to the States?”

    What happens in the US and China affects the entire globe. That’s why everyone is watching those 2 countries.

    If what’s left of US democracy goes down it’s likely democracy in much of the rest of the world, including Australia, will go with it.

    Republicans sacrificing Ukraine for short term political gain has Xi taking notes. It may lead to a miscalculation and a global war.

    Like it or not your country is the hinge of global events,

    By the way, I do have family living in the US in Florida, Colorado and New York. One of my distant relatives is a lawyer who has argued two case before your Supreme Court. His very private comments on the experience made interesting listening.

    And one of my very distance relatives actually resigned in disgrace from your Supreme Court. Judging by Clarence Thomas, judges no longer resign when they’re caught out.

    America has come a long way since Eisenhower fired Sherman Adams because of a coat.

    I also have friends I grew up with who now live in the US.

    So, bottom line, I’m in frequent contact with people who live in your country. Whatsapp makes it especially easy.

    I also have school friends who live in China and a relative by marriage who lives in Shanghai. My daughter visited them a few years ago and attended a wedding.

    My son, as it happens, also has a school, friend who lives in China.

    I do wonder what a man like Eisenhower would have made of Trump. I think Eisenhower is the most underrated of the post-war presidents.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-16 09:24:04 +1100
    I love children. I just don’t want to look after them. And I don’t think people should have them unless they’re willing to spend the time, energy and money to look after them.

    I also think adoption should be considered. Especially since millions of children worldwide are orphans.

    It’s ludicrous and obscene that people who want to adopt must prove their competence, while anyone who wants biological children can make them on a whim.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-16 09:23:57 +1100
    I love children. I just don’t want to look after them. And I don’t think people should have them unless they’re willing to spend the time, energy and money to look after them.

    I also think adoption should be considered. Especially since millions of children worldwide are orphans.

    It’s ludicrous and obscene that people who want to adopt must prove their competence, while anyone who wants biological children can make them on a whim.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Bunyan, are you saying you don’t like children?
    :)
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-16 08:39:26 +1100
    mrscracker, the birth rate was declining for decades before iPhones and the Internet became widely available. If people don’t want to spend 18 years doing an unpaid job that doesn’t make them happy, that’s their prerogative. Many childfree people have tried babysitting, and they’ve concluded that parenting isn’t for them.

    Children are noisy, expensive and time-consuming. Those are just facts.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Bunyan, I think you have a great plot there for a dystopian novel. But you’d first have to create a future society where people actually put down their screens long enough to have physical relationships. We aren’t headed in that direction currently.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-15 08:42:57 +1100
    mrscracker, do you think people should be fined or imprisoned if they get married and do not have children after a certain number of years? Do you think they should be punished if they don’t want to reproduce?

    Should contraception be illegal? Should education be illegal? After all, as girls receive more education, they’re less likely to have children.

    https://blogs.worldbank.org/health/female-education-and-childbearing-closer-look-data
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Steven, have you relocated to the States? You seem to be following American politics a great deal more than many Americans do.
    :)
  • mrscracker
    The title of the article did not exhort anyone to have children. How refreshing."
    ********
    It says something about our culture that one would separate procreation from marriage. It’s supposed to be the primary purpose of matrimony.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-13 18:03:44 +1100
    Before I start I’ll give you credit for one thing.

    You wrote:

    “The crying need is for family-centred public policy, yet neither “Nikki Haleyism” nor “Bidenism” gets family policy right. Wilcox proposes five key policy ideas that would begin to restore the fortunes of the working-class family. More college and more childcare are not among them.”

    At least you acknowledge the need for government to play a role.

    I wonder how many readers here will be OK with that. Didn’t the blessed Saint Ronald of Reagan teach that Government is the Problem? Isn’t “small government” a core Christian value?

    To continue:

    First off, elites coming down on marriage is a straw man argument. What is more it’s not even fresh straw. More like mouldy straw.

    “But there is one catastrophe they will never mention”

    Who is this “they”? I’ve been hearing about it for over 20 years.

    I have no doubt that financially secure people in a stable marriage are the happiest.

    Which way does causality flow?

    My best guess is a bit of both. The people in those relationships start off stable and conscientious. Then they team up and it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle.

    But if you’re not stable, not conscientious if your family background is unstable, if you’ve endured the stresses of poverty in 21st century America, getting married won’t help. And, yes, there are people who overcome a terrible background and they are to be admired. But it’s so admirable precisely because it’s so difficult and so rare.

    “But they don’t like to talk about it because it might seem judgemental and it doesn’t jibe with their liberal-left values.”

    Rubbish! I don’t know who you’re associating with.

    “From the “China shock” of the 2000s that threw millions of men across America out of work,…”

    It’s called capitalism. As one much derided politician said, “It’s about the Benjamins baby”

    It’s also broadly in line with what that bearded old Jew you all love to hate predicted in Das Kapital.

    “from an education system that fails men at every level, to marriage penalties in the tax and welfare system, the decisions of the elites have thoroughly undermined working-class family life.”

    Again, the old bearded one broadly foresaw this.

    But who are these “elites”?

    Mainly they’re corporate bosses and their propaganda arm, The Republican Party. They’ve sold a fantasy about “small government”, unfettered free markets, follow the Word according to Ayn Rand and all will be well. Get government out of the way and prosper.

    OK, enough. What you write is true and false at the same time.

    True because, yes non-rich Americans, what the Beaded One called the proletariat, have been well and truly shafted. And that applies especially to men.

    False because you fail to acknowledge that this misery is the logical, and predicted, outcome of unregulated capitalism twenty-first century style.

    And you fail to acknowledge the existence of a powerful corporate dezinformatsiya network comprising so called “think tanks” like American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, etc. They’ll go along with anything that does not involve putting any breaks on the ability of large corporations to generate ever growing profits regardless of the effects it has on the rest of society.

    Unless you address the core issues you’re like a doctor trying to cure diarrhea with a cork.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-13 09:11:18 +1100
    The title of the article did not exhort anyone to have children. How refreshing.