Putting the Baby Carriage before Marriage May Not Lead to Happiness

Culture Watch: Weekly Round-Up on Family, Religion and Civil Society
December 15, 2011

Putting the Baby Carriage before Marriage May Not Lead to Happiness

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center reported that marriage in the U.S. is at an all-time low with a little over half of Americans currently married, a steep decrease over the past few decades. As the decline of marriage continues to plague American culture, more children are being born outside the commitment and stability of matrimony. Today, more than four in 10 children are born outside of marriage.

As a recent report suggests, however, when it comes to parenting, going it alone or without a wedding band might not be the best option for personal happiness.

In The 2011 State of Our Unions report released by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, researchers Dr. W. Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt detail that parents who are married are more likely to report being “very happy” than their cohabiting or single counterparts.

According to their study titled “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable,” married parents between 18-49 years-old are between 11 and 26 percentage points more likely to rate their life as “very happy” than cohabiting or single parents. When it comes to relational contentment, marriage appears to be the best bet for parents. As Wilcox and Marquardt surmise:

“These findings suggest that the meaning, social support, financial security, and stability afforded by marriage, and to some extent cohabitation as well, make life more enjoyable for today’s parents, especially in comparison to their single peers who are parents.”

Although cohabiting parents tend to have higher levels of happiness than single parents, according to the report, simply co-parenting in the same household isn’t necessarily a recipe for sustained happiness. The researchers are quick to note that in the long-run, the living arrangement increasingly chosen by Americans is not likely to result in the relational stability or personal fulfillment of marriage.

It’s not just contentment with life that parents give up when they abandon the marital ties that bind. As research on The Heritage Foundation’s FamilyFacts.org demonstrates, the benefits of marriage extend far beyond personal happiness.

Married households tend to have higher incomes, greater wealth accumulations, and even better psychological and physical health. Children are arguably the greatest beneficiaries of the marriage commitment. Children raised in married households are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems, tend to have higher academic performance, and are significantly less likely to experience poverty than children raised outside of marriage.

Fortunately, there are ways that national leaders and policymakers can help restore a culture of marriage by promoting the many economic and social benefits of marriage – for both adult and child well-being – and eliminating disincentives to marry in federal tax policy and federal welfare programs.

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Family Fact of the Week
Fewer Americans are Marrying

Over the past six decades, the percentage of adults who are married has steadily declined among all Americans. The decline has occurred more rapidly among African-American adults, among whom less than 40 percent are married. Find out how marriage increases child well-being and helps sustain civil society at FamilyFacts.org.

Click here for the full chart


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Heritage Foundation DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation
Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy organization. Heritage established the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in 2004 to educate government officials, the media and the public about the role religion, family, and civil society play in sustaining freedom and the common good. Culture Watch is sent on Thursdays.

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