Why Marriage?

The custom of marriage is a true mass phenomenon – over millennia and across every corner of the globe, monogamous marriage has been the family structure of choice for the vast majority of the world’s population. According to the United Nations, roughly 70% of all living adults on the planet are married, and US Census data shows that 90% of Americans will marry at some point in their lives.  At the same time, the rate at which couples are marrying has declined significantly from a mid-20th Century peak, and rates of divorce and cohabitation have climbed, leading many curious onlookers to wonder why?

Do these trends point to a larger cultural shift in the perceived importance of marriage? Does marriage still have a place in our ultra-modern society? And, if a couple can happily cohabit and share their love without all the formal requirements of marriage, then is there really a point?

These are honest and well-reasoned questions. The simple truth is that marriage is an ultimate commitment with both benefits and costs, and in today’s world where instant gratification is the rule rather than the exception it’s no surprise that the virtues of marriage are being questioned. The good news is that the value of marriage has been hidden in plain sight. Volumes and volumes of research, studies, and analyses all point to the same fundamental conclusion: establishing and maintaining a strong marriage is the most important thing you can do in your life.

As Maggie Gallagher in City Journal puts it, “In virtually every way that social scientists can measure, married people do much better than the unmarried or divorced: they live longer, healthier, happier, sexier, and more affluent lives.”

“In virtually every way that social scientists can measure, married people do much better than the unmarried or divorced: they live longer, healthier, happier, sexier, and more affluent lives.”

— Maggie Gallagher, City Journal

There are an infinite number of things human beings disagree on, but when it comes to what’s truly most important in life and what most of us want out of it, there is much alignment: strong family life, good health, sufficient wealth (lack of poverty), and happiness.

When we look at our lives through the lens of these four criteria, the question then becomes: what decisions can we make to increase our chances at creating a strong family, maintaining good health, avoiding the stresses and detriments of poverty, and, ultimately, achieving sustained life satisfaction and happiness? Based on overwhelming troves of research, the answer to this profound question is surprisingly simple: get married. 


1. Marriage strengthens family outcomes.

  • Only 10 percent of cohabiting couples are still cohabiting after five years compared to 80 percent of married couples.
  • Cohabiting parents make up 19% of all couples with dependent children, but account for 50% of all family breakdown.
  • Nearly all parents (90%) who stay together until their children reach 15 are married.
  • Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents are: 2x as likely to drop out of high school, 2.5x times as likely to become teen mothers, 40% more likely to be idle — out of school and out of work, and are more likely to have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poorer attendance records, and higher rates of divorce as adults. These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parents’ education, number of siblings, and residential location.
  • Adult children of divorced parents describe relationships with their parents less positively, and are about 40 percent less likely than adults from intact marriages to say they see either parent at least several times a week.

2. Marriage makes you healthier.

  • Married persons have, on average, healthier profiles than the unmarried, be they divorced, widowed, or never-married. 
  • Married persons live longer than unmarried persons and never-married men have especially higher mortality rates.
  • 90 percent of married men who are alive at 48 will make it to age 65, compared with just 60 percent of comparable single men, controlling for race, education, and income.
  • Having heart disease reduces a man’s life expectancy by just under six years, but being unmarried reduces a man’s life expectancy by almost ten years.
  • Divorced people, even years after the divorce, show much lower levels of immune function.

3. Marriage makes you wealthier.

  • The unmarried are 5 times more likely to live in poverty during retirement than the married.
  • Marriage significantly reduces reliance on welfare as 89% of parents receiving welfare are not married while only 11% of parents receiving welfare are married.
  • Married men earn as much as 40 percent more money than comparable single men, even after controlling for education and job history.
  • Couples who stayed married in one study saw their assets increase twice as fast as those who had remained divorced over a five-year period.

4. Marriage promotes happiness.

  • 40 percent of married people say they are “very happy” with life in general compared with roughly 25% of singles or cohabitors. 
  • Married people are half as likely as singles or cohabitors to say they are unhappy with their lives.
  • Just 18 percent of divorced adults say they are “very happy,” and divorced adults are twice as likely as married adults to say they are “not too happy” with life in general.
  • Marital status is a significant contributor to the odds of reporting high life satisfaction. People who are married are most likely to report higher life satisfaction than those in any other segment including single, widowed, separated and divorced.
  • Married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed Americans.
  • Married men are only half as likely as bachelors and one-third as likely as divorced guys to take their own lives. Wives are also much less likely to commit suicide than single, divorced, or widowed women.
  • Just 12 percent of very unhappily married couples who stick it out are still unhappy after 5 years; over the same period, 70 percent of the unhappiest couples described their marriage as “very” or “quite” happy.

5. The sex is better.

  • Single men are 20 times more likely, and single women ten times more likely, not to have had sex even once in the past year than the married. (Almost a quarter of single guys and 30 percent of single women lead sexless lives.)
  • Cohabiting men are four times more likely to cheat than husbands, and cohabiting women are eight times more likely to cheat than wives.
  • Married women are almost twice as likely as divorced and never-married women to have a sex life that is extremely satisfying emotionally.
  • 50 percent of husbands say sex with their partner is extremely satisfying physically, compared with 39 percent of cohabiting men.

Somehow, at least in the Western world, we’ve lost our understanding of the true importance of marriage. The benefits of marriage are not taught in schools or promoted in popular culture. It’s no wonder, then, why divorce and cohabitation has been on the rise. How would those marriage, divorce and cohabitation rates improve if everyone was simply aware of the basic benefits of marriage? How much more happiness, health and wealth would be created? How many more unions would be birthed and rocky marriages would be salvaged? When we incompletely associate marriage with that of just a societal requirement religious or otherwise, we draw inaccurate conclusions: romance doesn’t last forever and cohabiting is basically the same thing – the logical thought pattern goes. The truth is far from our current perception of reality: that marriage is the most powerful thing we can do to improve our lives.