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Jewish World Review June 1, 2000 / 27 Iyar, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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A truly happy marriage -- IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS, my husband and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary -- an accomplishment equal to anything either of us has achieved professionally, yet something we more or less take for granted. That is, until someone else draws it to our attention, which happened this weekend, when we attended the wedding of a friend's daughter.

As discussions among wedding guests often do, talk at our table turned to the guests' own wedding histories. When I mentioned that my husband and I were married at 19, the couple seated next to us expressed surprise that we were still together. "The chances were about 1 in 10 that your marriage would last," the man declared. When I added that my husband was Jewish and I was Catholic, and that his father was a doctor while mine was a house painter, he joked that our chances had gone down to none.

Still, we did survive. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, through trials, temptations and tribulations -- as much by perseverance as anything else.

But most marriages do not last, at least not those of our generation and subsequent ones. About 60 percent of new, first marriages will fail, with even higher divorce rates for second marriages. And fewer people are bothering to marry in the first place. Nearly 1 in 4 persons over 18 has never been married, and another 10 percent are divorced, but the figures vary enormously by race. Nearly 40 percent of adult blacks have never been married, and another 12 percent are divorced, while 21 percent of whites have never married, and 10 percent are divorced. Hispanics fall midway between whites and blacks with respect to marriage, but are less likely -- 8 percent -- than either group to be divorced.

These statistics have tremendous consequences for society -- about one-third of all children born in the United States today are born out of wedlock, and such children are far more likely to drop out of school, commit crimes, and bear children themselves when they are unmarried and in their teens. Children of divorce, too, face extra hurdles. They are more likely to experience difficulty in school, engage in early sexual activity, and have trouble forming strong relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Most people don't make choices about whether to marry or stay married based on what's good for society, however, or even what is best for their own children. When it comes to marriage, most people weigh primarily their own happiness, well-being and fulfillment. But new research suggests that even here, most individuals would be better off in long, stable marriages than single or divorced. As sociologist Linda J. Waite points out in a recent paper entitled, "Why Marriage Matters," "marriage seems to produce substantial benefits for men and women in the form of better health, longer life, more and better sex, greater earnings (at least for men), greater wealth and better outcomes for children."

And, she says, there is growing evidence based on complex statistical analyses that "marriage causes at least some of the better outcomes we see for the married."

Somehow, this message isn't getting out. Indeed, virtually everything in our popular culture sends the opposite message. Movies, television and magazines depict life as exciting and rewarding only when you're young, single and hopping from bed to bed. It's time those of us who have managed to sustain our marriages started speaking up to counter the propaganda.

Those of us with children of marriageable age can begin with them. About one-quarter of young people between the ages of 25 and 29 now cohabitate, but too few parents are willing to suggest marriage to their own children for fear of being viewed as old-fashioned. And when our kids do marry and encounter difficulties -- as all married couples at some point do -- we're reluctant to urge them to work out their differences and stay together if they profess they'd be happier apart.

We need to let the world know it is possible to celebrate long years of married life. But it doesn't happen by accident. Marriage requires commitment to something greater than ourselves.

And if those of us who have succeeded at marriage aren't willing to lead the way, who will?

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate