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Behold the Benefits of Marriage

Traditional marriage is under attack. The rising tides of divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage call for advocates of traditional marriage to clearly define and articulate its benefits.1 The attack may be as obvious as Massachusetts’ legalizing same-sex marriage or as insidious as Hollywood tabloids’ sensationalizing the cohabitation of the next high profile couple. In this climate, it is important to remember not only that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman, but that in His wisdom, this institution is in the best interests of everyone. So, what are the benefits of marriage?

1. Marriage protects children. When parents are married, children do better in practically every quantifiable category. In the absence of marriage there is “more poverty, dependency, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide, depression, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, education failure, high school dropouts, [and] sexually transmitted diseases.”2 The benefits of marriage for children’s well-being are superbly documented and overwhelming.3 However, it is not in any marriage that children do well. Statistically speaking, the best place for the children is with their biological parents.4 Some argue this is “kin altruism” at work—the notion that natural parents tend to invest more in their own children.5 Others emphasize that a mother and father provide children a cornucopia of benefits ranging from financial resources to gender blessings—mothers tend to nurture, fathers tend to discipline, and children need both.6

2. Marriage promotes fatherhood. In the absence of marriage, children tend to be raised by their mothers. Therefore, an unusual and important benefit of marriage is the promotion of fatherhood.7 Fathers play a unique role in helping kids “negotiate the outside world.”8 Boys raised without fathers are more likely to commit crimes leading to imprisonment, while girls without dads are more likely to be unwed mothers.9 Indeed, the research shows that fathers matter.

3. Marriage benefits adults. Healthy marriages serve adults by providing the context for a long-term, supportive, intimate friendship. Research abounds describing the benefits of marriage over persistent singlehood, divorce, or cohabitation: “The emotional support furnished by most marriages reduces stress, and the stress hormones, that often cause ill health and mental illness.”10 Marriages tend to be less violent: According to one study, “13 percent of cohabiting couples had arguments that got violent in the past year, compared to 4 percent of married couples.”11 Marriages tend to create a safer environment for women and healthier lives for men: “Men are particularly apt to experience marriage-related gains in their life expectancy and overall health.”12

4. Marriage advances the common good.13 The effect of marriage on society-at-large is extraordinary. Harold James pointed out families—rooted in marriages—provide economic stability: “Over three quarters of registered companies in the industrialized world are family businesses.”14 Families have also been described as “small societies” themselves where children learn what it means to be virtuous citizens.15 It is more difficult to pass these virtues along in broken homes. Finally, society is paying the price for the breakdown of marriage—literally. A Brookings study concluded the weakening of marriage led to “an increase of $229 billion in welfare expenditures from 1970-1996.”16 A study measuring the costs of divorce concluded that local, state, and federal governments spend $33 billion each year, “from family court costs to child support enforcement to [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] and Medicaid.”17

Although more examples could be raised, the point is simple: We are not individuals each stranded on a desert island. We are members of a community whose actions affect the others. Decisions about marriage are no different. In a fallen world there will be no perfect home, and some families will dissolve. Nonetheless, a society that discounts the benefits of traditional marriage is slowly but surely eating itself alive.


For a more detailed description of these four challenges to marriage, see “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles,” 24-27, produced by the Witherspoon Institute (June 2006) and available for download at Princeton Principles Website, (accessed September 28, 2007).


Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?” in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, eds. Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (Dallas: Spence, 2006), 198.


In addition to Gallagher, see Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences (New York: Institute for American Values, 2002).


This is a point made throughout the writing on marriage. See Gallagher, 204-208; Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt, “What about the Children? Liberal Cautions on Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Meaning of Marriage, 36; “Marriage and the Public Good,” 15-16; Glenn T. Stanton and Bill Maier, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 112-20.


This is the argument made by Browning and Marquardt, “What about the Children?” 36.


“Marriage and the Public Good,” 18.

“Biology also matters. Studies suggest that men and women bring different strengths to the parenting enterprise, and that the biological relatedness of parents to their children has important consequences for the young, especially girls . . . Mothers are more sensitive to the cries, words, and gestures of infants, toddlers, and adolescents, and, partly as a consequence, they are better at providing physical and emotional nurture to their children . . .

“Fathers excel when it comes to providing discipline, ensuring safety, and challenging their children to embrace life’s opportunities and confront life’s difficulties.”


Gallagher, 207.


W. Bradford Wilcox, “Suffer the Little Children: Marriage, the Poor, and the Commonweal,” in The Meaning of Marriage, 250.


Gallagher, 211.


“Marriage and the Public Good,” 20.


Ibid., 21.


Ibid., 20. For more see Linda J. Waite, “The Health Benefits of Marriage,” in Marriage, Health, and the Professions, eds. John Wall, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, and Stephen Post (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 13-29.


See also Kairos Journal article, "Marriage: The First Bond of Society."


Harold James, “Changing Dynamics of the Family in Recent European History,” in The Meaning of Marriage, 61.


“Marriage and the Public Good,” 12.


Ibid., 23.