The decline in marriage harms us all by Bill Muehlenberg
Marriage matters, and women and children especially suffer without it.
Many decades of social science research have conclusively demonstrated that heterosexual marriage is an invaluable social good, with benefits for adults, children and society at large. As a welldocumented 2004 booklet I was involved in producing puts it:
"We believe good social science, despite its inherent limitations, is a better guide to social policy than uninformed opinion or prejudice. The public and policy-makers deserve to hear what research suggests about the consequences of marriage or its absence for children and adults. This report represents our best judgement of what the current social science evidence reveals about the importance of marriage in our social system.
"Here is our fundamental conclusion: Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad arrayof positive outcomes for children and adults alike." (21 Reasons Why Marriage Matters, p.5. Emphasis in the original text).
Thus when marriage declines, societies and individuals suffer — children especially. This is true, especially throughout the Western world. Here I feature three recent articles, the first two of which specifically look at the scene in the UK. They further demonstrate the harm to children when we neglect, minimise or radically seek to alter the institution of marriage.
The first piece, from Britain, simply tells us what is now happening in terms of recent statistics. It begins:
"For the first time more babies have been born by couples who are not married or living in civil partnerships in England and Wales. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), for 2021, show 624,828 live births in the two nations. Of these, 320,713 (51.3%) were registered to women not wed or in a civil partnership.
"The percentage of births registered to cohabiting parents has also increased compared with a decade earlier. Mothers aged 30 years or over were almost twice as likely to be in a marriage or civil partnership (60.5%) compared with those in their 20s or younger (31.2%) in 2021….
"The ONS said 2021 is the first year the number of live births registered outside marriage or civil partnerships has exceeded those registered within them since records began in 1845. It follows a long-term trend of declining marriage rates and increasing numbers of cohabiting couples seen in recent decades, the ONS added. The statistics body said that as the full impact of the pandemic on marriage and civil partnership statistics is not yet known, caution should be applied when interpreting its latest figures." (ITV News, UK, January 19, 2023).
Next, British journalist Mick Brown argues that marriage is still important. And just one of the clear benefits of marriage is the impact on the health of those involved. As we documented in the booklet mentioned above — 21 Reasons Why Marriage Matters — married people tend to live longer and have healthier lives than those who do not marry.
Brown looks at a new study on this "by researchers at the universities of Ottawa in Canada and Luxembourg, which suggests that even an unhappy marriage may help prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes". He continues:
"Scientists examined data over a period of 11 years from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing on 3,335 adults aged 50 to 89 who did not have diabetes at the start of the study. Seventy-six per cent of people in the analysis were married or living together. The study found that being married or living with a partner was linked to healthier blood sugar levels. Couples were questioned on the degree of happiness and contentment in the marriage — whether they felt supported in the union and understood each other's feelings, or conversely whether they got on each other's nerves and criticised each other — compared with blood sugar level.
"The study concluded that the quality of the marriage did not make a massive amount of difference to the average levels of blood glucose; it was simply being in a marriage that appeared to have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes, preventing people's blood sugar rising dangerously.
"So even if the rows about loading the dishwasher or squeezing the toothpaste in the middle might drive you to distraction, don't even think about walking out. The report joins the growing body of evidence that testifies to the health benefits of marriage. Figures released last year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that married men and women of all ages consistently had the lowest mortality rates between 2010 and 2019, and a lower premature death rate than those who are single, divorced or widowed." (Daily Telegraph, UK, February 11, 2023).
I again refer you to the booklet where we provide loads of similar documentation on the overwhelming value of heterosexual marriage. My final article is penned by a family therapist, Elizabeth Naham. She wrote in part:
"At one time, even the left-leaning social workers published information about single parenting ramifications. Basically, they warned women about the chances of becoming impoverished with one child out of wedlock. Having two? They set themselves up for a life of poverty. If you voiced that old-fashioned statement now? Someone might shrug or remind you that it's part of the culture. Get with the program.
"We've gone from the scarlet letter to a badge of honour, where baby mamas are celebrated, from the wealthy glitterati to the poorest of the poor. The implicit message is, don't you dare judge, you dinosaur. Or who needs a piece of paper for commitment?…
"Over the last decade, I've heard stories about unmarried relatives raising children with their partners. One client stated that her brother wanted to get married, but his girlfriend insisted on financing other endeavours instead of a wedding. Another client shared that her niece and boyfriend have special-needs children and would lose their benefits. Besides, they wanted to put their money into new living-room furniture. Both clients agreed when I expressed the politically incorrect and therapeutic faux pas of disapproval.
"About five years ago, I saw a high-school teacher who told me that four half-siblings attended school together. They shared the same father with different mothers. I shook my head in distaste. He joined me.
"All these Me Too women who puff themselves up with liberation and pro-abortion mantras deny that they'll suffer eventual consequences without the institution of marriage.
"Even without children, some young women proclaim no issue for them when their boyfriend avoids marriage. Despite ultimatums, these loyal females remain with their male partners, hoping for a change of heart. Recently, I received a call from an old client, seeking a couple's therapist. Her boyfriend of ten years still won't get married after promising they'd become engaged in early 2020, and she wants marriage and children.
"The Marxist Rudi Dutschke coined the phrase 'the long march through the institutions'. People often forget that this includes marriage. Karl Marx must be laughing at coddled Americans' ignorance and complacency as they celebrate the march away from tradition and fall into the pit of family abolition. Many of us know that marriage is its foundation, and without it, the family crumbles easier.
"Throuple, a vogue quasi-synonym for ménage à trois, no longer holds its taboo status. Polyamory, once on the fringe of society, has been celebrated in TED Talks and accepted by my profession as an alternative lifestyle. A few months ago, a colleague reached out on LinkedIn requesting I check out a book about this unsavoury practice. I ignored it.
"I'm not a social scientist, but for the last 35 years, I've served a variety of people, mainly college-educated, and have witnessed this unrelenting cultural devolution. Family and marital breakdown may be the major contributors to this problem, but there are other issues, including moral relativism, demonisation of religion and merit, revisionist history and lackadaisical parenting…." (American Thinker, February 11, 2023).
Yes, the anecdotal evidence backs up the research. Indeed, I know various counsellors and therapists who see the same thing: marriage breakdown and the retreat from marriage have unleashed a tsunami of social problems with our children the biggest losers. Women too are big losers here.
As British thinkers Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond put it a decade ago:
"Marriage is pro-child and pro-women; it is our social insurance against the rising numbers of abandoned children, the ongoing rise of lone motherhood and the exculpation of men who no longer feel or even demand any responsibility for women or the children they bear with them. Marriage, in principle, is the most friendly of institutions to women, and the disassociation of marriage from children will further isolate and decouple the needs of women from the needs of men. It will erode and ultimately destroy the meaning of marriage." ("Marriage: union for the future or contract for the present", ResPublica, UK, Green Paper, February 2013, p. 10).
Bill Muehlenberg is an American-born Christian apologist, ethicist and cultural commentator, who lives in Melbourne. He has written a number of books, including Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality (2011), The Challenge of Abortion (2015) and The Challenge of Euthanasia (2016). The above article is reprinted, with the author's permission, from his website, CultureWatch, at: BillMuehlenberg.com