Are married mothers really less happy than single moms and motherless women?
This is the question leading sociologists Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies addressed in a very important and counter-intuitive article published recently at The Atlantic.
If you are reading much of the popular press, especially among left-leaning elites like The New York Times, Forbes and Bloomberg, to name just a few of the examples Wilcox and Wang cite, the answer is clearly “yes.” Wilcox and Wang provide plenty of examples of such publications saying exactly that.
But if you simply look at the most robust scientific data, rather than anecdotal reports from complaining friends and colleagues, these scholars say the answer is “Actually no.” They explain, “As tough as motherhood was during COVID, mothers were both happier and more financially secure than childless women during the pandemic.” And married mothers were the happiest of all.
And children increase happiness. This research team tells us,
Challenging as they were to care for while many schools were closed, kids seem to have brought a sense of direction, connection, and joy to the average mother’s life during the pandemic, at a time when so many other social ties were cut off.
But children bring not only happiness. These sociologists report that women who are mothers tend to be better off financially than their childless peers. How can this be when children are supposedly so expensive?
Well, it’s true. The U.S Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey demonstrates that median family income for mothers with young children or teens at home was $80,000 in 2021, while it was only $67,000 for childless women.
Wilcox and Wang explain,
These results are consistent with other recent research by the economists Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone, who found that American parents report more income and “daily joy” than their childless peers, even though they also report more stress.
The Dramatic Marriage Class Divide
But as marriage seems to improve life satisfaction and overall happiness, it is important that all pro-marriage advocates understand that a large class divide has developed in marriage rates over the last few decades in America. Wealthy elites are far more likely to be married than those in lower income and education brackets. This is dramatic inequity is demonstrated in this illuminating chart,
Wilcox and Wang add,
And despite all the media coverage discounting or minimizing the importance of marriage during COVID, mothers with partners were generally happier: In 2020, 75 percent of married mothers were somewhat or completely satisfied with their lives versus 58 percent of their unmarried peers. (emphasis added)
This team concludes their article with this instructive line, “If the data tell us anything, it’s that, at least for most American women, the pathway to happiness runs through married motherhood, not away from it.”
This is because God has wired humanity in such a way that marriage, the publicly announced commitment a husband and wife make to each other for life, enhances life itself in very rich ways.
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes tells us as much,
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
And one of the first statements God makes about man clearly tell us this as well,
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
…Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
When the world tries to tell you that marriage is harmful or means nothing, remember what both God’s Word and the best scientific research tell us. After all, both are simply telling us how God’s created order for men, women, children and society as a whole work.
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