What Are the Benefits of Traditional Marriage?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I think that the benefits of traditional marriage are taken for granted among a large portion of the population.  Whenever there is talk of changing the definition of marriage, we must revisit why we have the current definition.  And we must also ask if the current version of marriage is serving us well compared to the alternatives.

Jay Richards, in the Vol. 5 / No. 4 / 2012 edition of the Christian Research Journal reminds us what the good of marriage is:

The easiest public argument to make in defense of traditional marriage is to focus on the benefits of marriage. The collapse of marriage and the epidemic of divorce since the 1960s have given social scientists decades of data to study, and the results are in: marriage is good for us, and divorce is not.

Based on solid empirical evidence, we know that men and women in their first marriages tend to be healthier and happier than their counterparts in every other type of relationship—single, widowed, or divorced. They’re also less depressed and anxious, and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Married adults are more sexually fulfilled. They’re better parents, better workers, and are less likely to be perpetrators or victims of domestic violence.

Are there other benefits to marriage?  Yes.  Richards continues:

Social scientists have concluded that married men are less likely to commit crime and more likely to hold down jobs. Single people can, of course, live fulfilling lives. The apostle Paul commends the single life as a wonderful gift for those who are called to it (1 Cor. 7:7-8). Those called to marriage, however, tend to be much better off if they are married rather than divorced. Marriage scholars Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher sum up the results of thousands of scientific studies: “A good marriage is both men’s and women’s best bet for living a long and healthy life.”

What about children?

The same thing is true for children. On almost every metric imaginable, a child is much better off reared by his married mother and father. This one fact is more important to a child’s well-being than his race, his parents’ education, or his neighborhood.

Does this data mean that single parents and kids who are raised in homes without their two biological parents are doomed?  Richards explains that

these are statistical measures. Some heroic single parents and their kids overcome the odds, and any institution can be distorted and even destroyed by human sin. Still, all things being equal, marriage is good for us, and divorce is not.

Here is the takeaway. Our intuitions and experience tell many of us that traditional marriage is good for us and our children. We don’t have to just go by our experience and intuition, however. Decades of social research backs us up. Keep this in mind next time someone asks you to re-define traditional marriage.

  • “Married adults are more sexually fulfilled. They’re better parents, better workers, and are less likely to be perpetrators or victims of domestic violence.”

    Interesting stuff, but it tells us only what many already suspected. It’s another reason to celebrate the people of Maine and Maryland voting to allow gays to enjoy these same benefits of traditional marriage. And with other benefits like “less likely to commit crime and more likely to hold down jobs”, this is truly a result that is good for everyone, gay or straight.

  • tildeb

    The operative word with these studies is marriage and not, as so many would misunderstand it to be, traditional.

    Once we get past this confusion, we get to the important point, that marriage is a social institution that conveys benefit to the public good.

  • The only kind of marriage we have any significant data on is marriage between one man and one woman. There is simply too little data to know if these benefits will also work when a woman “marries” another woman or a man “marries” another man. Any claim to the contrary is merely a guess with no scientific data to back it up.

    In fact, it may very well be (and I think this is the case) that the reason marriage between a man and woman conveys all these benefits is tied directly to the essential biological complementarity of one man and one woman. In that case, these benefits will not accrue to same-sex couples, nor to polygamous unions, nor any other kind of union.

  • “The only kind of marriage we have any significant data on is marriage between one man and one woman. ”

    But we’ve no reason to think those benefits wouldn’t be enjoyed by SSM married couples too. Certainly not enough reason to deny them the chance to enjoy those benefits. All that the studies show is that married couples enjoy those benefits. That’s the only information it gives us. To imagine gay couples would be a special exception is not supported by the studies, as far as I can see.

    “…is tied directly to the essential biological complementarity of one man and one woman”

    Is there anything in Richards’ studies that supports that notion? To quote you, that is: “merely a guess with no scientific data to back it up.”

  • What you’re promoting is a giant social science experiment. The problem is that the results of that experiment could have profoundly negative consequences for the couples and even more importantly, the children that are raised in these experimental relationships.

    This sounds very similar to those who said in the 1960’s that free love and free sex was just as beneficial to society, if not more beneficial, than traditional marriage in long-term monogamous relationships. Unfortunately that social experiment has been a disaster. In fact, that social experiment has generated all of the data that Richards was referring to in his article.

    Shall we roll the dice again?

  • “What you’re promoting is a giant social science experiment.”

    No, I’m just saying there’s no reason to think that the benefits described in the study you quote would somehow not be enjoyed by same sex couples.

    “the children that are raised in these experimental relationships”

    Gays are already raising kids, and the studies quoted appear to show those children would benefit from their parents/adopted parents being married. The experiment here is denying the parents the right to marry, when all the studies appear to show this hurts the children.

    “Unfortunately that social experiment has been a disaster.”

    Sure – and studies show that married couples are more likely to be monogamous, meaning that allowing SSM is likely to CUT DOWN on that disastrous ‘free love/free sex’ lifestyle. The two ‘social changes’ are in fact opposites, rather than being similar.

    It’s easy to point to a social change that ended badly and claim that other, completely unrelated social changes must therefore also end badly. Plenty of other social/legals changes had beneficial effects. Ending anti-miscegenation laws, for example.

  • But we have a tried and true family structure that we know works, and has worked for thousands of years. We know that traditional marriage is the best way to raise kids. Why are you so willing to take a chance on a new family structure where there is precious little empirical evidence that it will work?

    And worse than that, you want the state to actively endorse and promote this new experimental family structure by passing laws that give it the same legal benefits that traditional marriages get. This just seems like insanity to me, especially when we know that gay couples are far less likely to stay monogamous than hetero couples.

    Why should we gamble our children’s welfare and the stability of our families for the sake of less than 1% of our population who want the government to endorse a relationship which has no provable benefit for society?

    In the countries who long since legalized gay marriage, I have seen reports of increased out-of-wedlock births and decreasing marriage rates. Why? Because the state is signaling that lifelong commitment between a man and a woman is just one choice among many. It’s not better or worse than any other family structure.

    If I am a man living in a country like that, I am going to have sex with whomever I can and leave the child-raising up to somebody else (my partner or the state). There is no societal or legal pressure to do the right thing and make a lifelong commitment to one partner.

    If you can find countries where same-sex marriage has been legalized for 10 years or more, and the percentage of traditional marriages has gone up, and the number of out-of-wedlock births has gone down, please forward the data along. I’m serious. I admit I could be wrong about this data, although I’ve heard it reported many times.

  • 1. As I said, gays are raising kids either way. There’s a choice of letting them do it as married couples or not. And the evidence shows that the former is better for the kids. If you opt for the latter, you’re doing so in defiance of the kids best interests. Again, the kids raising is going to happen anyway, so it’s not that that you are preventing, you’re purely arguing against the thing shown to encourage monogomany and stability in parental guardians.

    2. Have you seen any stats or reports that kids in these liberal SSM marriage countries have become any less well-adjusted than in other countries since SSM was legalised there? Any increase in detrimental factors like crime, happiness, abortion rates above increases we’ve seen in non-SSM nations?

  • I have heard the same claims you have about ‘more babies out of wedlock’ in these SSM nations. I heard it from other apologists, but don’t know if it’s not true. However I’d be interested to hear if it’s more kids being raised in single families, or just more unmarked couples raising kids – you’ll agree that the former is far worse. I’ve a feeling that the latter is simply more common in those kind of liberal nations.

    In the US, out of wedlock births is much more likely to equal single parenting, with accompanying problems. In Norway, out of wedlock has far less of a correlation with those issues of crime etc. And while we may see a correlation between SSM in liberal Western Europe, it seems far more likely to be just that – a correlation rather than a causation.

  • tildeb

    The only kind of marriage we have any significant data on is marriage between one man and one woman.

    This is not true. During the Walker trial to overturn California’s proposition to make marriage legal only between opposite sex couples, all kind of studies were introduced showing no deleterious effects that could be isolated by respected empirical data to the gender of the parents. In fact, many studies showed a very clear deleterious affect to the parents and children of same sex couples of legally discriminating on this basis. This is why Judge Walker overturned the Proposition: it was unconstitutional.

    In addition, we have very clear positions by all professional psychological, medical, and psychiatric associations telling us a single message: there is no evidence other than assumed bias that the gender of married couples matters in the success of either the marriage itself (and the well-known benefits due to it), or the effects on children raised within such same sex marriage.

    I know I have commented here before and provided the specific positions of these professional organizations, obviously to little effect. But I think it is only proper that the burden of proof to discriminate legally against people belongs to those who assume they have cause. This burden was clearly not met in the Walker trial in spite of a massive publicity campaign and huge funding to show cause, nor has it been met in any recent legal decision that I am aware of. This is why traditional marriage continues to be legally overturned whenever it is challenged in court: to be very clear here, there is no cause to continue this legal discrimination other than to continue to support the same kind of biased reasons based on incorrect assumptions used here.

    Furthermore, for the past seven years here in Canada since same sex marriage became legal, the sky has not fallen. Opposite gender couples continue to get married and have children and live productive lives. When asked, many of these young people simply have no clue why same sex marriage should be considered to somehow be a threat to their marriage. The fact is, it’s not. At all. It’s simply a level playing field where all citizens of age of majority can enter the institution we call marriage (and know is benefit to the public good) equally. I have yet to meet anyone who can explain with evidence from reality why this equality in law is a shift away from supporting a public good.

  • With regard to your first question, just because gays are raising kids doesn’t mean the state should applaud it. People do lots of things that are bad for kids, but does that mean the state should pass laws endorsing every bad thing people are already doing?

    The question is not whether gays are raising kids; the question is whether the state should endorse gays raising kids by legislating gay marriage. The state is in the business of legislating for the common good, so until someone can prove that gay marriage is in the common good, then the state should not endorse it.

    With regard to your second question, you have already agreed that kids raised by married couples do better, according to all of the social science research. So if a country has declining rates of marriage, then the research predicts that the kids will do worse.

    To answer your second question more directly, I have not seen that kind of research, but I haven’t looked. And thinking about it, that kind of research may not be available yet because it will take decades to see the outcomes after the marriage rate plummets in those countries. Since SSM is so new, the impact on kids probably has not been able to be measured yet. It’s too early, I’m thinking.

  • Tildeb,
    Do me a favor. Go find out how may traditionally married couples have been studied over the last 40 years in the US to see the effects on children, and then find out how many gay couples have been studied over the last 40 years to see the effects on children. When you have the answer, report back.

    Once I see this data comparison, we can move forward with a discussion of whether research on gay couples raising children is significant.

  • It may well be that married people are happier than unmarried people but that could just be a result of the fact that happy people are better able to sustain relationships and make better marriage partners. Correlation is not causation.

  • I didn’t mention applause. But if marriage is better for kids, and your concern is for the kids, then you should consider SSM purely on those grounds. As you describe it, it seems you’d prefer denying kids that benefit purely out of fear gays are being encouraged to be monogamous.

  • If the decline in marriage in those countries is not accompanied by any increase in single parenting, or any added break up in cohabiting unmarried parents, then we may not see the kids doing worse. As you say – too early to make that call. Were those studies just done in the US, where unmarried tends to signal lack of commitment, or did it include countries like Norway, where that connection is less likely to exist?

    Rather than campaign against SSM, why not against divorce?

    Finally, I don’t buy that a possible fall in marriage rates is due to the public react to gov laws on SSM. The laws react to the public feeling, not the other way round. Norway, Netherlands etc passed gay marriage laws because the population were already liberal in their attitudes to marriage.

    Perhaps marriage rates fell, but so did divorce rates, and so did single-parenting rates. If the end result was NOT a rise in broken families, then you can’t point to SSM causing a problem. And neither of us know enough about the figures to say…

  • “Rather than campaign against SSM, why not against divorce?”

    I do speak out against divorce, and I consider it a far worse problem than SSM. I don’t write about it on this blog much because there is not an organized movement to promote divorce in this country. Virtually everyone I talk to agrees that divorce is not a good thing, that it is extremely regrettable when it occurs, and that it brings great harm to children.

    SSM advocates, on the other hand, cannot see why anyone thinks their position is wrong. That is why I tend to write more about it.

  • tildeb

    But Bill, gays have not been allowed to marry for a strictly accurate comparison. But what has been studied shows no negative correlation to the gender of the parents. This is what the Walker case showed: there was no compelling evidence of harm to justify legal discrimination. This is also the conclusion of all national professional health care organizations. They’re not simply pulling this conclusion out of thin air; they have no cause to suggest this discrimination is based on any supposed compelling evidence. In fact, and in reality, the legal discrimination can be clearly shown to cause harm, and this the fact that you seem unaware; the belief in the harm you suggest could be done does not in any reasonable mind overcome or justify the harm that is known to be caused by legal discrimination. This is why the burden of proof lies with you who suggest the discrimination be continued on no reasonable basis but your belief alone, and not on me who has a fair degree of confidence in these professional organizations. You’re the one, let’s be clear, who claims there could be harm if this legal discrimination is lifted. Well, then, this job is yours to show, and to show it causes more harm than is currently suffered by those subject to this unconstitutional legal discrimination.

  • I’m not following this argument.

    Providing same-gender marriage does not eliminate, reduce or impinge the current persons allowed to marry. Indeed, if (as this argument claims) being married is “better” for society, this is strong support for same-gender marriage as we now would have more married people—not less!

    How does this possibly support hetero-sexual only marriage?

    Now, in the comments it seems to be inferred same-gender marriage makes more hetero-sexual couples not get married. (And how convoluted is that!) Yet the blog entry article’s point seems to be divorce and changing society have caused more people to not get married. In order to support this claim, one would have to demonstrate significant statistical data of increase to people staying single AND same-gender marriage.

    In other words, the first thing to do would be to show more people are staying single in Massachusetts since enacting the law than in neighboring states. And after that, one would have to show causation, and not just increase.

    Am I missing something? How is allowing more people to get married a bad thing if married people are “better” for society?