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Wanted: Married Dads

Posted on Sunday, June 16, 2024
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by David P. Deavel
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21 Comments
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The decline in American fertility is connected to the decline in the number of Americans getting married. If we want more dads to celebrate on Father’s Day, the best way to get them is to encourage marriage. Yet young Americans are being bombarded with messages telling them to avoid marriage. This is a very bad sign for America and for the holiday we celebrate today.  

Thankfully, for those who have encountered these anti-marriage messages, University of Virginia professor and National Marriage Project Director Brad Wilcox’s wonderful new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, gives all the tools one could need to show why America would be better if our marriage culture were stronger. Even if marriage is not for everyone, the truth remains: marriage is one of the best paths for human beings to find financial and personal stability, meaning, love, and happiness. A culture with stable, happy, loving people whose lives have meaning will indeed save civilization.

Wilcox notes from the outset that American young people are pinioned between two anti-marriage messages. Elite left-liberal culture tells young women that marriage is a bad deal for them. Young women should focus instead on building careers and making money. And on the right, the “red-pill” and “manosphere” voices are telling young men that marriage is too risky: marriage will only lead to unhappiness. Better to focus on career, money, and enjoying a promiscuous lifestyle, say voices such as the influencer Andrew Tate. You’ll be much better off not marrying, they all say.

The problem with both the anti-marriage left and right is that they are wrong. All the best social science data shows that, on the contrary, married women and men are indeed, on average, in much better shape than the never-married singles or the divorced.

Let’s take the money question. Married mothers, Wilcox tells us, have a median income 2.5 times greater than childless singles. So, too, men. “Stably married men heading into retirement, for instance, have a staggering ten times more assets than their divorced or never-married peers.”

As with money, so too with meaning and happiness. Married mothers are nearly twice as likely (60%) to say their lives are meaningful than are single women (36%). Married men are twice as likely to say they are “very happy” as unmarried men (40% to 20%). That may well be because, despite the hype about the sexually free life of singles, marriage is connected to more and better sex.  In his chapter, “The Flying Solo Myth,” Wilcox provides a host of other statistical data showing that marriage is correlated strongly with happiness—and that there are good reasons to attribute causation to the relationship. It’s not just that happy people with purpose and financial skills are more likely to get married. Marriage itself seems to enhance all these traits in both men and women.  

That “Flying Solo Myth” is the biggest one holding people back from tying the knot in the first place. But there are plenty of other myths out there that are distorting the marriages that do end up happening. The chapter titled “The Soulmate Myth” treats the idea that marriage is best when it’s pursued on a contingency basis as only good as long as it feels good. It’s the “till death do us part” aspect that makes things work in the long run. Every married couple will discover that the glow of romantic love wears off at some point. It’s when the couple pursues commitment that real love starts to show.

To do that, couples need to avoid the “Maybe I Do” mentality, in which husband and/or wife hedge their bets on the marriage. While prenuptial agreements are not all bad, Wilcox shows that they often have the effect of convincing the partners that the marriage is itself a conditional affair. Similarly, the chapter titled “We Before Me” refutes the myth that husband and wife will be happier when they focus on themselves. And “The Parent Trap” exposes the myth that kids make you miserable. While there is plenty of evidence that having kids is very hard work—and sometimes puts stress on a marriage—the gains in meaning and long-term happiness more than make up for the difficulties. Beside which, the idea that not having children means having no problems is itself a myth.

The final myth Wilcox addresses is the devastating one that just any kind of grouping of people in a “family” will provide good results. When we look at how children fare with married parents versus single or divorced parents, we see that it’s not just the adults who benefit from marriage. Kids need those married moms and dads to truly thrive, and the data is not even close. Those who’ve read the work of figures such as Charles Murray, Kay Hymowitz, Mary Eberstadt, and others will have seen this before, but it’s important to keep repeating it. Wilcox’s chapter “The Family Diversity Myth” rehearses the ever-growing data that show married moms and dads living together produce the best results for children in every statistical category.

As is obvious, Wilcox doesn’t just break down bad ideas about marriage. He shows why marriage is a good and how to strengthen individual marriages. As with the best social science writing, Wilcox’s text isn’t just a rehearsal of statistics and abstractions. The results of interviews with dozens of couples from different backgrounds, different religious and political profiles, and different marital stories are included to deflate the myths and put flesh on the truths. At 249 pages of text, the book has both plenty of charts and plenty of stories to keep the sheer volume of data from being overwhelming.  

Among those Wilcox interviews are members of four groups who have notable success at marriage: Strivers (upwardly mobile, college educated), Asians, the Faithful (practicing religious people), and political conservatives. (These groups can, of course, overlap.) Wilcox explains the cultural reasons for each group’s collective success at marriage, but he doesn’t over-egg the pudding when discussing these groups. Asians (especially Indians) have the most stable marriages but not always the happiest. Conservatives are more likely to get married but have less protection against divorce. And while regular attendance at church, synagogue, or even mosque is a strong factor in stability and happiness, it is no guarantee of a happy ending.

If there is a problem with the Strivers, it may well be that they are much more likely to be part of the elite who don’t “preach what they practice,” as Charles Murray pointed out in his 2011 book, Coming Apart. Conservative in the sheets, too many of the Strivers are shouting out the family diversity myth and other nonsense in the streets.

Decline in marriage is, Wilcox argues, a cultural problem and a political problem that has not truly been addressed, despite the fact that the trend began in the Carter Administration. Whereas Democratic policies are often “workist” and “elitist,” catering to Strivers who think full-time work and professional daycare is the summum bonum of human life, Republicans too often have no policies for families. The problem on the right, he argues, is that too many “wrongly assume tax cuts, deregulation, and higher GDP growth will fix all the problems ailing American families.”

While politics can’t create a marriage culture out of whole cloth, Wilcox argues that policies that help get more men working, financially support families, eliminate marriage penalties in law, expand school choice, and promote the success sequence (graduate from high school, get full-time work, and then get married before having children) will be successful. Readers will probably vary in their agreement about the potential success of Wilcox’s various policy proposals, but there is no doubt that these economic and structural realities do play some role in clearing the way for new marriages and helping out those already formed.

 As one who teaches young college students, this writer has encountered more students lately who have listened to the siren songs of feminists and manosphere types. They tell him that marriage is too dangerous and too constricting, that it will keep them from happiness. It’s a worrisome sign, for as Wilcox observes, “the future of the American way of life—our lives, our liberty, and the pursuit of our happiness, rightly understood—depends upon making strong and stable marriages possible for all those who wish to open their hearts to lifelong love—and to the children who arise from that union.”

This father will be using Wilcox’s book to teach his skeptical students and his own children what used to be obvious but isn’t anymore: marriage is a good for kids, for moms, for dads, and for the country.

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. A past Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, he is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.

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Joyce
Joyce
26 days ago

He is so right. Our kids need to know that living together and having babies without the benefit of marriage is wrong. Young men need to accept responsibility for their actions and become married fathers. Fathers need to be leaders who will teach their children riight from wrong and they need to take their children to church. Part of our problem today is that GOD has been left out of the family.

Brenda G
Brenda G
27 days ago

What I’ve noticed is that many of us are very selfish. Marrying, having children, and creating a monogamous lifestyle is not for the faint-hearted. It is a commitment to yourself, your spouse, and your family, which is more rewarding than any career. So many fail because they aren’t willing to put in the work that is necessary for success. Any difficult worthwhile challenge leaves a person with the feeling, a sense of satisfaction that is not easy to explain. I never thought that there were so many people who were quitters, perhaps like many things? Just ignorant. I’m not trying to be critical or derogatory whatsoever. Just informative of another opinion if someone is curious. Peace, kindness to you.

Jerry_M_Tx
Jerry_M_Tx
25 days ago

Agreed. We need more focus on helping and improving marriage, not tearing it down. Marriage will help people “grow up.”

Christopher Howell
Christopher Howell
26 days ago

No serious conversation can be had about this topic until family courts change to favor fathers (number 1 determining factor in predicting a child’s future is the father’s financial situation), mandatory paternity testing at birth, and the vilification of men and victimization of women is stopped.
The reality is that the RISK for men to even associate with women, much less date or marry, is too great.
Risk aversion is a logical pursuit for men attempting to build. Men should become fathers as soon as they are financially able to do so using ECTOGENESIS.
Women have overwhelmingly voted for collectivist policies so I am tired of them playing the victim now that their spaces are being invaded. They have invaded male spaces for over a century so they can sleep in their own beds that they made.
Penned by a small government Christian Conservative single father.

uncleferd
uncleferd
26 days ago

Mr. Deavel’s words reflect my own experience as a husband and father.
I have long felt, and actually observed, that the left dislikes close families with strong ties and parental guidance, because those families provide children with a moral understanding and values “structure” that the left is often unable to defeat.
Being raised as part of a family that looks out for one-another, is, in itself, a repellent to those who would want to misguide and manipulate young people, the way our Department of Education has so effectively trained their personnel to do.
It’s a long way home for many younger adults who later “see the light”, after having been conditioned for political submission by their so-called “educators”. Those who have the vision and spirit to grow past the illusions will never forget the time and energy they wasted on the pre-meditated misguiding of those who purported to “teach” them to relinquish their own rights and opportunities.

David
David
27 days ago

I am glad someone is bringing this up because I don’t think older people (60+) realize how much the dating scene has changed since there day, even since the 1980s. It is harder today and it’s sad that younger people today are not as big as “face to face.”
I do agree with making friends with someone you are interested in first (the most successful marriages that I know of firsthand began this way) but many give up and get “friend zoned” quickly instead of been given more of a chance. I do think there is less interest in dating in college (the author teaches at a smaller college in Houston) but that may depend on the student body. Those who plan to attend graduate school, medical school, or law school will normally marry between 30 and 36, so dating at 21 may be low on their priority list. I do know some seminarians take courses at the school where the author teaches and while they can develop friendships, they are not allowed to date, but I will say the seminarians is a small group at the school.
If one is not married after college or professional school, dating is a much different world, particularly if you don’t want to meet someone through work. With 30 being the average age for marriage these days, I don’t think quite a few older people realize these challenges. Online dating can work, but it takes some navigating and screening (even on a Christian-type site). Meeting people through a church group can be a good place to make friends and find a spouse, but many of these groups are getting harder to find(and some parents and even some pastors – I said some, not all – don’t seem to care that their children are cohabitating). Meeting through friends or family or a volunteer group is an option too. I do know people too (even today) that met their spouse at the gym, which I recall was sometimes dubbed “the singles’ bar of the 1990s. Another thing too is several places of business take advantage of single people (oh, you can work late, I need you to take a business trip, you can work swing shift, I have billable hours at the law firm, i need you to entertain a client, etc.) and many bosses don’t care about your personal life.
I do agree there is also a fear of commitment among single people today which has made singles’ gun shy about pursuing a serious relationship that can lead to marriage and marriage does help with stability and is better for families. Married people (especially men) tend to live longer too. I do know quite a few people who married for the first time between 30 and 38, but some of that had to do with it’s a little harder to find a suitable mate in say 2024 than it was in say 1990.

Laura Bentz
Laura Bentz
13 days ago

I don’t know where he gets his stats about being wealthier if you are married, but we always struggled in Florida to find decent, well-paying jobs that would fund our retirement… I think that’s why so many people get divorced. They give up. We persevered and have been married 42 years. We now own our own home free and clear and have some money saved up. The trick was an inheritance that we skillfully applied to our situation. However, we are under duress with Biden’s policies and suffering financially from that. Yes, the past maybe it was an advantage to be married. It’s getting less and less viable as time goes on and inflation eats up all our wealth. As well as bad recessions alike the one in 2008… And there will be more of those in the future.

Wild Wyoming
Wild Wyoming
26 days ago

Young men today have a friend for anything they desire at almost anytime. Also many young men don’t want to continue to raise a woman and put up with the tantrums these young wemon can pull in a heartbeat. Also as my 33 year old Nephew put it he didn’t want to work his but off getting a house, kids, new pickup, man toys and money in the banks only to have it all taken away in divorce because his wife thinks she can get a upgrade in men.

kit
kit
26 days ago

no more soy boy males

R A De Prima
R A De Prima
27 days ago

I have to totally disagree with this concept there are enough children out there that need to be adopted we can increase the population by showing them kindness in a home.

phoenix
phoenix
26 days ago

lol. we are as fertile as ever. we just kill 1 million a year in abortion.
Men get royally screwed in divorce court, and family court. Need I mention anything nore than the sperm donor who was sued for child support. He didn’t even get the pleasure of getting laid by the woman who screwed him later! Is it worth the risk when women see not a husband but a future settlement and a paycheck as well?
Many young women of marrigable age age are 304s and have been run though harder that a whore in a golds strike down in the 1800s with all of the resultant baggage that goes with that.
No wnder they are going overseas. to find mates.

Robert
Robert
27 days ago

Change divorce laws, and make it harder to get a divorce. It is easier to get a divorce than to get married

Rick
Rick
27 days ago

They should get married and have at least 3 children. You have the people that are supposed to be in the know are advocating for and at the same time telling us we need more immigration

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