Decades of sociological research show women benefit from marriage. As Maggie Gallagher, co-author of The Case for Marriage, writes for City Journal:

In virtually every way that social scientists can measure, married people do better than the unmarried or divorced: they live longer, healthier, happier, sexier, and more affluent lives.

She continues:

Marriage is a powerful creator and sustainer of human and social capital for adults as well as children, about as important as education when it comes to promoting the health, wealth, and well-being of adults and communities.

But popular culture frequently deemphasizes arguments like Gallagher’s, telling women instead that marriage will oppress and stifle women.

Consider author Lyz Lenz’ essay in The Washington Post titled, “Women are divorcing — and finally finding happiness,” which argues women can’t be married and happy at the same time.

Lenz’ premise is heavily shaped by her own negative experience of marriage. She implies, for instance, that marriage won’t make women happy because men make bad life partners.

She accepts that men benefit “demographically, psychologically and socially” from marriage, but erroneously suggests it’s all at their wives’ expense. Citing a 2020 Swedish study that found “it is still seen as quite unusual for men to be the main supportive spouse in someone else’s career,” Lenz comments:

Essentially, it’s not the time commitment and stress of success that break up marriages; it’s the husband’s resentment about the time commitment and stress — and his refusal or inability to step up.

She rebuts women who want to remain married by comparing her ex-husband to a horse:

Some [married women] tell me how they’ve trained their partners. Sure, those men came rough and reluctant, but now they do the dishes without complaining. And they’ll cook dinner some nights. See? Maybe, they imply, if I had tried hard, worked harder, trained my husband, stayed miserable a little longer, I could have stayed married. As if that was the one thing I wanted to spend my time on — training a grown man like a horse.

Lenz conclusions about husbands’ incompetence lead her to further argue that marriage prevents women from being successful.

“I often wonder how many stories, how many scientific breakthroughs, how many plays, musical scores and innovations have been tossed onto the pyre of human marriage,” she writes, elaborating:

I am not saying the work I had done and will do is so incredible that it justifies everything. I am saying it doesn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to win a Nobel Prize or be a heart surgeon for my life, my ambition and happiness to be worth fighting for.

Her only factual support for this argument is her claim that women are more likely to get divorced when they climb the career ladder. Sociologists and journalists like Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, however, might alternatively note that divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1960’s and 1970’s when women started evaluating their marriages by their internal feelings of happiness rather than external measures like their economic security.

Lenz ultimately admits that she sacrificed her marriage and the benefits it provided her family because she didn’t feel happy or self-possessed:

I was the one who broke. I want to make that clear. If I hadn’t, we might still be together. This article wouldn’t exist. Much of my work wouldn’t exist. But my marriage would. And maybe we’d reach the end of our lives and have joyful, peaceful moments. And our children might idolize what we had — not knowing, never knowing, how much it cost me.

I feel badly for Lenz in many ways — I think her experience sounds deeply wounding and frustrating. But her essay inappropriately generalizes her story to the entire institution of marriage. Writing about the divorce rate, Lenz remarks: “If 40 percent of Honda CR-Vs had engine failures, Honda would issue a recall of the whole line.”

Sociologists paint a very different picture. Not only does marriage make women healthier, richer and more socially mobile, it also makes them happier.

The well-respected General Social Survey found 40% of married people report they are “very happy” with life in general, as opposed to only 25% of single people or cohabiting couples. Single and cohabiting people are also 50% more likely to say they are “unhappy with their lives.”

Divorced people, on the other hand, are twice as likely as married people to say they are “not too happy” with life. Less than 20% of divorced people reported they were “very happy.”

What’s more, Gallagher says, most unhappy marriages become happy overtime. Only 12% of couples who reported being “very unhappy” remained so after five years; 70% became “very” or “quite” happy over the same period.

The narratives we tell ourselves dictate our actions. If women perceive marriage to be an oppressive or stifling arrangement, they are less likely to get married — regardless of the truth.

That’s why it’s important for Christians to be knowledgeable on and engaged with social issues. By correcting the cultural myths bombarding modern communities, believers can improve people’s lives and demonstrate the wisdom of Christ.

Additional Articles and Resources:

Don’t Believe the Modern Myth. Marriage Remains Good for Men.

Don’t Believe the Modern Myth. Marriage Remains Good for Women.

No, Young Adults, Marriage has Not ‘Outlived Its Usefulness’

Married Mothers and Fathers Are happiest According to Gold-Standard General Social Survey

New Research Show Families Matter More Than Ever

Focus on the Family:

Marriage Resources

Marriage Assessment

Marriage Enrichment Events