A Summary Of The Benefits Of Marriage


Husbands & wives

Married men and women are generally healthier and live longer lives than their single peers.[1]

“The norms of adult maturity and fidelity associated with marriage encourage men and women to avoid unhealthy or risky behaviors—from promiscuous sex to heavy alcohol use.”[2]

“Happily married adults report fewer depressive symptoms than all other marital groups.”[3]; and especially for women, marriage combats depression, provides particularly high psychological benefits and significantly lowers the risk of suicide.[4]

Husband and wife are more economically stable than their unmarried peers. Contemporary married couples with children earn a median annual income of $67,670.00 as compared to single-parent families with a median annual income of $24,408.00.[5]

Typically, the capacity of a married couple’s household exceeds that of a single-parent household by nearly three times the amount in income.[6]



Research suggests that the best source of emotional stability and good physical health for children is the stable, happy marriage of the mother and father.[7]

Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier than their peers raised in non-married families.[8]

Children receive gender specific support from having a mother and a father. Research shows that particular roles of mothers (e.g., to nurture) and fathers (e.g., to discipline), as well as complex biologically rooted interactions, are important for the psychological development of boys and girls.[9]

Children from stable, married families are significantly less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and thoughts of suicide compared to children from divorced homes.[10]

“The rate of virginity among teenagers at all ages is highly correlated with the presence or absence of married parents.[11]


Negative effects of cohabitation on men, women and children

Men & women

Although cohabitation seems to imitate marriage, research indicates that it fails to deliver the multiple benefits of marriage.[12] In fact, cohabitation appears to imitate single life more than married life.[13]

“People who are cohabiting are less happy generally than the married. They have a 46% greater risk of divorce than couples who do not live together before marriage[14] and “more frequent depression …. than those of married people.”[15]

Cohabitants have higher rates of domestic violence with women cohabitants being at greater risk for physical abuse.[16]


Children living in cohabiting households

Children in cohabitating households face a greater increase of negative psycho-social outcomes including:

  • an increase in emotional and behavioral problems[17]
  •  greater experience with educational difficulties[18]
  • for boys, this includes higher rates of violence, juvenal delinquency, and incarceration[19]
  • greater risk for being victims of abuse, especially when the biological father is missing[20]



[1] See, K. A. S. Wickrama, Frederick O. Lorenz, Rand D. Conger and Glen H. Elder, Jr., “Marital Quality and Physical Illness: A Latent Growth Curve Analysis,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 59 (1997): 143-155; Catherine E. Ross, John Mirowsky and Karen Goldsteen, “The Impact of the Family on Health: Decade in Review, “Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990): 1059-1078. The increased benefit for a married woman’s longevity is related to the length of marriage, see for example, Lee A. Lillard and Linda J. Waite, “Till Death Do Us Part: Marital Disruption and Mortality,” American Journal of Sociology 100 (1995): 1131-1156. 


[2] Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good (2008), p. 20, referencing Waite and Gallagher, Case for Marriage, (2000), pp. 53-55. See also, Alan V. Horwitz, Helene Raskin White and Sandra Howell-White, “Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (1996): 895-907; Nadine F. Marks and James D. Lambert, “Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-Being,” Journal of Family Issues 19 (1998): 652-686.


[3] Howell, Healthy Marriages, Healthy Lives, (2008), p. 3, citing “Marital Status: Links to physical and mental health,” MIDUS (Midlife in the United States)—A National Study of Health and Well-Being; available at, www.midus.wisc.edu; accessed 7/14/11.


[4]See, Wilcox et al., Why Marriage Matters, (2005), p. 28.  Wilcox references a number of classic and current studies, notably, Susan L. Brown, “The Effect of Union Type on Psychological Well-Being: Depression Among Cohabitors Versus Marrieds,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41 (September 2000): 241-255.


[5] See, Paul R. Amato and Rebecca Maynard, “Decreasing Nonmarital Births and Strengthening Marriage to Reduce Poverty,” Future of Children 17 (2007): 117-142.

[6] David G. Schramm, “Counting the Cost of Divorce: What Those Who Know Better Rarely Acknowledge.” The Family in America 23 (2009). Available at www.familyinamerica.org/index.php?doc_id=19&cat_id=4; (last accessed, 7/14/11).


[7] See, B. Burman and G. Margolin, “Analysis of the association between marital relationships and health problems. An interactional perspective,” Psychological Bulletin 112 (1992): pp. 39-63. A 2002 report by Child Trends (an American nonpartisan research organization), summarized the current scholarly consensus on marriage as clearly demonstrating that “family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.” Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can be Done about It?” Research Brief, (Washington, DC: Child Trends, June 2002), p. 6.

[8] See, Wilcox et al., Why Marriage Matters, (2005).


[9] See, Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good, (2008), pp. 10-13; see also Paul Amato, “More Than Money? Men’s Contributions to Their Children’s Lives,” in Alan Booth and A. C. Crouter, (eds.), Men in Families: When Do They Get Involved? What Difference Does It Make? (Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998);  J. Belsky, L. Youngblade, M. Rovine, B. Volling, “Patterns of Marital Change and Parent-Child Interaction,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 487-498; Eleanor Maccoby, The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together, (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1998); David Geary, Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1998);  Wade Horn and Tom Sylvester, Father Facts, (Gaithersburg, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative, 2002); David Popenoe,  Life Without Father, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Thomas G. Powers et al., “Compliance and Self-Assertion: Young Children’s Responses to Mothers Versus Fathers,” Developmental Psychology 30 (1994): 980-989.

[10] Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good, (2008), p. 10, referencing, Bradford Wilcox et al., Why Marriage Matters, (2005). See also, Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, (New York: Crown, 2005).


[11] Howell, Healthy Marriages, Healthy Children, (2009), p. 7, citing Deborah M. Capaldi, Lynn Crosby and Mike Stoolmiller, “Predicting the Timing of First Sexual Intercourse for At-Risk Adolescent Males,” Child Development 67 (1996): 344-359.

[12]See for example, S. M. Stanley, H. J. Markman, and S. Whiton, “Maybe I Do: Interpersonal Commitment Levels and Premarital or Non-Marital Cohabitation,” Journal of Family Issues 25 (2004): 496-519. 


[13] See, Susan L. Brown, “The Effect of Union Type on Psychological Well-Being: Depression Among Cohabitors Versus Marrieds,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41 (2000): 241-255; Allan V. Horwitz and Helene Raskin, “The Relationship of Cohabitation and Mental Health: A Study of a Young Adult Cohort,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1998): 505-514.


[14] Alfred DeMaris and K. Vaninadha Rao, “Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability in the United States: A Reassessment,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992):178-190. Cohabiting relationships are greatly unstable. One study found that 50% of children born to a cohabiting couple will see their parent’s relationship end by age five, compared to only15% of children born to a married couple.  See Wendy D. Manning, Pamela J. Smock and Debarum Majumdar, “The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,” Population Research and Policy Review 23 (2004):135-159; Pamela J. Smock and Wendy D. Manning, “Living Together Unmarried in the United States: Demographic Perspectives and Implications for Family Policy,” a prepublication working paper from the Population Studies Center (PSC) at the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan: PSC, 2004).


[15] Family Research Council, The Family Portrait (2002), p. 85, referencing Brown, “The Effect of Union Type on Psychological Well-Being: Depression Among Cohabitors Versus Marrieds,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41 (2000): 241-255.


[16] See, Susan L. Brown and Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda, “Relationship Violence in Young Adulthood: A Comparison of Daters, Cohabitors, and Marrieds,” Social Science Research 37 (2008): 73-87; Jan E. Stets, “Cohabiting and Marital Aggression: The Role of Social Isolation,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 669-680.


[17] Susan L. Brown, “Child Well-Being in Cohabiting Families,” in Alan Booth and Ann C. Crouter (eds.), Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children and Social Policy, (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), pp. 73-187; Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 351-367.


[18] Ibid. See also, Julie Artis, “Maternal Cohabitation and Child Well-Being Among Kindergarten Children,” Journal of Marriage and Family  69 (2007): 222-236; Sandra Hofferth, “Residential Father Family Type and Family Well-Being,” Demography 43 (2006): 33-57; William H. Jeynes, “The Effects of Several of the Most Common Family Structures on the Academic Achievement of Eighth Graders,” Marriage and Family Review 30 (2000): 73-97.


[19] See Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (2004): 369-397.


[20] Children living in households with a single mother and a male partner who is not the biological father have an increased risk for abuse including: physical harm and even death from intentional injuries, see Carol D. Siegel et al., “Mortality from Intentional and Unintentional Injury Among Infants of Young Mothers in Colorado, 1982 to 1992,” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 150 (1996): 1077-1083. See also, A. Radhakrishna et al., “Are Father Surrogates a Risk Factor for Child Maltreatment?” Child Maltreatment  6 (2001): 281-289;  Leslie Margolin, “Child Abuse by Mothers’ Boyfriends: Why the Overrepresentation?” Child Abuse and Neglect 16 (1992): 541-551.  Children living without their biological father also have an increased risk of being sexually abused, see David Finkellhor, et al., “Sexually Abused Children in a National Survey of Parents: Methodological Issues,” Child Abuse and Neglect 21 (1997): 1-9.  


1 Comment »

  1. Jim N. May 9, 2012 Reply

    Repeat after me: Correlation is not causation.

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