Robin Smith / May 4, 2020

Marital Commitment Is the Missing Ingredient

The marriage rate in America has dropped to an all-time low. That’s very bad.

The world economy has been wrecked for the purpose of health. History books will be filled with accounts of the pandemic of 2020 and the response to not just quarantine the ill but also isolate otherwise healthy adults in an effort to protect citizens from a novel virus.

Yet it’s funny how selective folks can be about which practices they’ll choose to employ or ignore. Marriage is a perfect example.

A few news outlets publicized a report issued last Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics entitled, “Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900-2018” by Sally Curtin, MA and Paul Sutton, PhD. The report is relevant to health statistics because, as has been demonstrated, marriage has a benefit to the health of an individual, a family, and a community.

Marriage rates, according to the data, reached a peak in the era of 1932-1946 with 16.4 marriages per 1,000 population sample. In the 1950s to early 60s, the rate of matrimony fell to about eight per 1,000 but began an uptick in 1963 through the early 1970s with a rate of 10.9/1,000. But marriage has been on a slow and steady decline since 1982, dropping to the all-time low of 6.5 per 1,000 in 2018.

So what? Our culture changes. The very definition of family is different. Cohabitation has grown as a way to defray expenses without any real commitment.

In a separate 36-page report, researchers Wendy Wang and Bradford Wilcox looked at a formula for better outcomes in the Millennial age group (28-34 years old). Their study found a convincing correlation reflected in the title of the publication: “The Millennial Success Sequence.” Simply put, 70% of upper-income Millennials had followed this success sequence: finishing at least high school, working full-time, and then getting married prior to having children. This “Sequence of Success” is supported by the liberal Brookings Institute as well as the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The importance is in application. For adults who employ this plan, the Wang/Wilcox report noted 97% avoided poverty by the time they reached their prime adult years, as early as 28 years old. This formula transcends racial distinctions, too. Seventy-six percent of African American adults who were high-school educated, working full-time, and married before having children, as well as 81% of Hispanics, joined 87% of Caucasian adults in the middle or upper third of the income distribution.

So, culture may change but the role marriage plays in the prosperity and income level of an individual, a family, and a community is also tied to wellness and health.

A June 2017 Psychology Today article noted that married people have a health advantage that is “roughly equivalent to that of a healthier diet or regular exercise.” Citing research that a married individual is 14% more likely to survive a heart attack with a hospital discharge of two full days sooner than single adults reflected a Harvard Medical School review in June 2019 that recorded better cardiovascular and mental health, as well as longevity.

Yet, as a society, marriage is devalued. Despite studied and proven benefits, matrimony has been viewed as an option, not as a benefit in life. Some attribute the waning participation in communities of faith that embrace traditional families. Others point to the rise of one’s individual rights and freedoms as priorities in life that are painted as being mutually exclusive to the framework of marriage. Much of the changing views of marriage are rooted in the political agenda of empowering one gender over another — identity politics.

Commitment is part of the mix, too. It takes commitment to work together, to share, to collaborate, to push through difficult times, and to share good, bad, and in-between. And commitment is not love. So, because today’s culture has deemed feeling love to be the only thing needed to form a union, the value of commitment demonstrated by the exchange of vows is overlooked.

Americans spend a lot of money, time, and effort on health and wealth. They are both improved when we also commit to more than just ourselves.

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