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Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2000 / 13 Tishrei, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Making the case for marriage -- AFTER SURVEYING the literature on domestic violence, one can't help but think that husbands everywhere are hiding in closets waiting to jump out and beat their wives with pool sticks. Perhaps that's why legislators in several states have proposed or passed legislation that calls for handing out warning labels about domestic violence with marriage licenses.

This is just one way marriage has taken quite a tumble in our culture from its once-honored state, according to a new book released this week, "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better off Financially" .

In their provocative assessment, authors Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and Maggie Gallagher, director of the Marriage Project at the Institute for American Values in New York, confront much of today's conventional wisdom regarding marriage.

So, for instance, they show that while domestic violence literature almost always lumps together the categories of "married" and "non-married," there is a vast difference between the very nature of the two. And that difference is reflected in this reality: Married women living with their husbands are much less likely to be victims of domestic violence and even violence from strangers than are their single, separated, divorced or cohabiting sisters. For most women, marriage is a safe-haven.

Gallagher and Waite maintain that marriage changes the relationship of the marriage partners for the good, giving them a stake in the well-being of each other and the family in a way other forms of "partnership" cannot. The public promise of marriage "changes the way you think about yourself and your beloved; it changes the way you act and think about the future; and it changes how other people and other institutions treat you as well," say Waite and Gallagher.

Purchasing this book
-- linked in 2nd paragraph --
helps fund JWR

So, an extensive survey of the data on marriage shows that married people, in general, are significantly healthier, both physically and mentally, than their non-married peers: They are far more affluent, even when living on only one income; women are safer, and men, even from backgrounds at "high-risk" for violence, are far less likely to commit crime; they report more satisfying sex lives than their single peers, even those who are cohabiting; and overall they are significantly happier than folks in any other kind of relationship "arrangement." (Children, of course, experience extraordinary benefits when their parents are married.)

Still, one of the most prevailing myths about marriage seems to be, as a USA Today headline once put it, "Guys Wed for Better, Wives for Worse." In other words, the thinking goes, women are confined and hampered in marriage (once popular culture's view of men in marriage) while men enjoy a housekeeper, mother for their children, and sex-partner. Waite and Gallagher show that while the roles of husband and wife can vary remarkably in different marriages, the most sophisticated measurements of marital happiness and commitment, as well as dissatisfaction with spouses, "reveals remarkably little difference between his marriage and hers."

On some scales, such as sexual satisfaction and financial well-being, a woman's lot improves even more than a man's upon taking wedding vows.

Yet, the authors contend, despite all the obvious advantages of marriage and the fact Americans overwhelmingly desire to be married, our culture and law continue to downplay any unique value of marriage. They quote noted sociologist Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's observation, after she surveyed the academic literature on the subject, that "[O]ne can't help but note the dwindling use of the word 'marriage.' Marriage becomes just one form of 'coupling and uncoupling' or one possible 'intimate lifestyle.'"

So then, Waite and Gallagher ask, "is marriage merely a private, emotional relationship built by two individuals for their own private satisfaction, in which the larger society has no stake and no role?"

More and more the answer is "yes." Witness Hillary Clinton, who once famously said "the only two people who count in any marriage are the two who are in it."

And that's the crux of the matter. This demotion of marriage is done in the name of "choice." But as Waite and Gallagher note, ". . . reimagining marriage as a purely private relationship [not uniquely supported by law, society, and custom] doesn't expand anyone's choices. For what it ultimately takes away from individuals is marriage itself, the choice to enter that uniquely powerful and life-enhancing bond that is larger and more durable than the immediate, shifting feelings of two individuals."

Now, that's a case for making the case for marriage.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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