The Case for Marriage They Don't Want You to Hear

Maggie Gallagher

Maybe you can't judge a book by its cover, but boy, you can sure tell a lot
from its critics.

"The Case for Marriage"  (Doubleday) is a new book I co-authored with
University of Chicago Prof. Linda Waite  whose research on the advantages of
marriage over other lifestyles is turning heads and raising scholarly
eyebrows: Should we embrace all family forms equally? Do husbands really
oppress their wives and hog all the marital goodies? Is it really true that
the single life offers more rewards for women than the average, ho-hum

Well, no, no and no actually. Not if you look at the evidence.  Here's the
scientific case for marriage in a nutshell:  marriage changes men and
women's lives in powerful ways that other sorts of relationships, such as
cohabitation, do not. Marriage is not just another lifestyle, but a
productive, wealth-creating institution that (like education) builds human
and social capital and (like education) therefore deserves public support.
Linda Waite and I call for innovative new public and community efforts to
strengthen marriage, and reduce divorce.

Divorce, these days, is too-often framed as the gateway to happiness for
adults, which they must (or must not) sacrifice for their kids sake. But
for some time now I've wondered whether fewer divorces would require such
awful sacrifice from adults. "Divorce and be happy - or stay married and
miserable for the kids' sake" is the way most Americans now frame the
question. Framed that way, just a third of Americans, now believe people
should stay married for the children's sake.

But what about the other possible outcomes?  For example, you could divorce
and be miserable, right? If divorce is such a great way to fulfil yourself,
why is it that just 18 percent of divorced persons say they are "very
happy"? Why are married women much, much happier than divorced, never
married or even cohabiting women?

Then again, there's that other pesky possibility: stay married and get
happier. In the Case for Marriage we looked at what happens to bad marriages
that don't end.  The turnarounds were shocking: Five years later, 77 percent
of very unhappily couples that stayed married now called their marriage
either "very happy" or "quite happy."  A bad marriage is not a hard fact.
It's a judgement by one person at one moment in time about a future that can
change.  Just as good marriages go bad, bad marriage "go good" and they are
more likely to do so in a society that strongly prefers staying married to

This is pretty interesting stuff, right?  As is the news that says, marriage
reduces domestic violence, or that 3 out of ten middle-aged guys who aren't
married will likely die prematurely as a result, to list just two examples
of new data. So its pretty curious to me that the first two reviews out of
the box by the alleged cultural elite, one by Nation editor Katha Pollit in
Slate and one by Margaret Talbot in the October 1 Sunday New York Times are
not only negative but actually dismiss The Case for Marriage as "old news"
about a debate nobody care about. (If you doubt me, you can read them at

Curious too such prestigious editors assigned The Case for Marriage to
writers who have published articles condemning me and anybody else who
wants to reduce divorce. Curious most especially that Pollit calls The Case
for Marriage a "clip job" and Talbot implies (either ignorantly or out of
malice) that Linda Waite is just some second-rate ideologue instead of a top
family scholar. Finally, curiouser and curiouser isn't it, that two such
keen intellects cannot seem to locate a marriage debate in America just a
few weeks after Time magazine put "Who Needs a Husband?" on the front cover?

All of which makes me wonder: What exactly is it about this new case for
marriage the divorce advocates don't want you to hear?

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