Apparently Dr. Keith Ablow — a Boston psychiatrist and co-author with Glenn Beck of The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life — thought actress Cameron Diaz said something smart and prescient when she declared marriage “a dying institution” in an interview with Maxim. Ablow agrees with Diaz because he’s “not certain marriage ever did suit most people who tried it.” In fact, he goes on to say, “Marriage is (as it has been for decades now) a source of real suffering for the vast majority of married people.”
Such inanity from Diaz shouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but to hear such silliness from a medical professional of Dr. Ablow’s stature is mind-blowing. He demonstrates a stunning lack of awareness of the current social-science and medical research on marriage’s impact on health, happiness, and well-being for men, women, and children.
First, we must ask how Ablow reaches such a damning conclusion about the individual and social virtues of marriage. He knows this because of “what I hear in my psychiatrist office, and from what I hear from other psychiatrists and psychologists.” Appreciate what he’s saying here: “I see married people every day. And guess what? Every last one of them coming through my office is very unhappy and troubled.” Shouldn’t a professional psychiatrist expect to see very few happy married people in his practice? Oncologists rarely see patients who are not fighting cancer. Do most people then have cancer? Ablow sees no problem with selection bias here.
Since the 1930s, scientists have been consistently finding that married men and women are two to five times less likely to suffer any kind of mental illness than the unmarried of any category: single, divorced, or cohabiting. Joint research conducted more recently at Yale and UCLA concludes that, “One of the most consistent findings in psychiatric epidemiology is that married persons enjoy better health than the unmarried.” What’s more, a recent 17-nation study on the connection between marriage and happiness found that married men and women were more than three times more likely to be generally happy and contented with life than cohabitors.
In fact, a great mountain of published research shows that when compared to the unmarried of any relational status, marriage significantly boosts every important measure of human well-being for men, women, and their children, from general physical and mental health, longevity, educational attainment, sexual satisfaction, to financial earnings and savings and success at work. And the question among these scholars is not whether marriage is associated with improved well-being, but why! Marriage is also a strong protection from all forms of both serious and mild domestic violence, poverty, substance abuse, and relational infidelity. No other relational form — not singleness, dating, divorce, or cohabitation — comes close to mirroring the benefits associated with marriage. Pew Research in late 2010 found when comparing various relational forms in the United States that, “Married people are more satisfied with their family lives than are unmarried people.”
Ablow concludes his article with this cock-sure prediction: “It’s only a matter of time. Marriage will fade away.” However, a new, sophisticated report on marriage from the Pew Research Center tells a more positive story on marriage among the Millennials who, they report, have “the strongest desire to marry” of any generation alive today.
Ablow is concerned that what replaces marriage be “something that improves the quality of our lives and those of our children.” This is like wishing water away in favor of something that will really quench one’s thirst. Over the last 40 years, possibly more so than at any other time in human experience, we have had a great deal of experimentation with varying relational forms — increased singleness, hook-ups, fatherless child-bearing, cohabitation, divorce, step-families — and not one of these have come close to rivaling marriage’s empirically demonstrated ability to increase and enhance human happiness and overall well-being.
But forget the research if you want and just consider this. Imagine attending the 50th wedding anniversary of any couple chosen at random in any culture. Standing there with the couple, their children, grandchildren, extended family and friends, what is it that Ablow thinks we would be celebrating? If he is to be believed, we would have to pity this couple because they have most likely endured decades of “acrimony” and “suffering,” as he describes it, and are just putting on happy faces because the real truth would be too painful.
Marriage, an institution drawing the two streams of humanity — male and female – together, is common to all human civilizations throughout time. In fact, anthropologists believe that marriage’s beginnings cannot be traced because it “developed out of primeval habit.” No particular ideology, political arrangements, or social theory foisted marriage upon us. It is one of our most ancient and fundamental human goods. And as such, it will long outlast the prognostications of Hollywood starlets or media talking heads.
— Glenn T. Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and author of Secure Daughters, Confident Sons.