The “ball and chain” perception of marriage is a myth, according to a research brief by the Institute for Family Values released in February.
Contrary to the common view among men that marriage is an “expensive encumbrance on their freedom and their sex lives,” new research finds married men have more money, better sex, and a longer life than their single peers. And the benefits do not apply to men just cohabiting.
Researchers Bradford Wilcox, a professor and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, examined recent sociology studies focused on the cost and benefits of marriage for men.
They found a clear takeaway: Marriage is good for men in “every conceivable measure.”
Married men make about $16,000 more per year in salary than their single peers with otherwise similar backgrounds. Research taking into consideration the “selection effect” – the reality that higher-achieving men may be more likely to marry – found “marriage itself increases the earning power of men on the order of 10 to 24 percent.” In addition, men who stay married have three times the accumulated wealth by their 50s, an average $167,719 compared to $48,528 for single men.
Married men also report the most satisfaction with their sex lives, with 51 percent saying they are “extremely” satisfied, compared to 39 percent of cohabiting men and 36 percent of single men. While more cohabiting men say they have sex at least twice a week – 52 percent compared to 42 percent of married men – Wilcox and Wolfinger argue cohabiting relationships are less stable, and so there are more new cohabiting relationships at any given point. Take relationship duration into account, and research finds cohabiting men have no more sex than married men.
The benefits also extend to physical and emotional health. Men who get and stay married live almost 10 years longer than their unmarried or divorced peers. Married men eat more fruits and vegetables. Married men also appear to manage illness better, with their wives providing companionship and advocating on their behalf with doctors and nurses. A recent Harvard study found married men diagnosed with cancer live significantly longer.
Married men also experience less depression and more happiness. Looking at reports of men’s perceived happiness, single and cohabiting men respond within 1 percentage point of each other, and, as a group, are twice as likely to say they are “not happy” and half as likely as married men to say they are “very happy.”
Despite the evidence of benefits, men continue to delay or avoid marriage in unprecedented numbers. The U.S. marriage rate has been at a 45-year low since 2010, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Cohabitation has usurped marriage as the most common relationship experience in young adulthood. And the average man’s age at first marriage is nearing 30, up from 22 in the 1950s.
Wilcox and Wolfinger don’t deny the sacrifices: “Successful marriages require men to work harder, avoid cheating, spend less time with their friends and make a good-faith effort – day in and day out – to be emotionally present with their spouses.”
But they say the research shows the sacrifices pay for themselves, and more.
The challenge now is to debunk the “ball and chain” perception in the wider culture, something Wilcox and Wolfinger say should be a priority, given the “adverse consequences men, women, and children have suffered in the retreat from marriage.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)