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Still not good to be alone

The fact that a man needs a wife is now subverted by our culture

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Still not good to be alone
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Jane Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice opens with the memorable words, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Over 200 years later, readers still disagree over whether Austen intended the line ironically or sarcastically. But while the politics and pressures of marriage have shifted since her time, the question lingers: Do men need, or benefit from, marriage?

For years, radical feminists have argued that marriage is a prison for women. But, more recently, right-wing online influencers have been arguing that marriage is “objectively a bad deal“ for men—so risky and inconvenient that they’d be better off avoiding it entirely.

But is marriage a bad deal for men? Perhaps the greatest risk to a marriage-minded man is the possibility that the entire marital agreement falls apart in a divorce. Research indicates that women initiate nearly 70 percent of divorces in America and generally do so for superficial and transient reasons.

After the introduction of state no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s, divorce rates skyrocketed. As political science professor Scott Yenor notes, the “bold policy change, disguised as a bureaucratic adjustment, ended the idea of marriage as an enforceable contract.” Children, women, and men have all suffered. For children of divorce, the fallout manifests in increased poverty, suicide, depression, drug use, and crime. Women, some family law attorneys argue, actually fare worse than men financially in divorce proceedings.

But the disaffected right argues that men get the worst of it all. Indeed, when judges have discretion, they tend to favor women in custodial settlements. U.S. Census data indicates that men are the custodial parent only 20 percent of the time—a reality that poses profound harm and grief to some of the divorced fathers in question. Everyone seems to think they get the worst of it.

But that is far from the whole story. Most marriages don’t end in divorce; about 40 percent do. And attitudes towards no-fault divorce are beginning to shift as several states consider overhauling their no-fault regime and adjusting custody assumptions.

The bigger challenge facing eligible bachelors may instead be in initiating a marriage. Sharing insights from his new book, Get Married, Professor Brad Wilcox summarizes the profound hurdles to marriage and fertility. “Ideological polarization between the sexes, technological distractions, and rising rates of male joblessness and underemployment are some of the factors driving what I call ‘the closing of the American heart.’”

Marriages will be more difficult to secure and preserve in a culture that’s blind and rebelling against God’s designs for sexuality, identity, and the meaning of happiness.

This decline matters because men benefit immensely from marriage. Married men in stable marriages heading into retirement have a stunning 10 times more financial assets than their never-married or divorced peers. They are healthier and live longer than men who were never married or who are divorced or widowed. (Studies are strongest on heart disease and cancer outcomes.) In fact, notes Professor Kevin Wallsten, “married men (ages 18-55) in America are about twice as likely to be very happy, compared to their unmarried peers.” Other factors also matter, but, to quote Wilcox again, “marriage is a better predictor of happiness than education, work, money, frequent sex, or regular religious attendance.”

In such a high-risk, high-reward enterprise, it obviously matters who one marries. Wilcox identifies “four groups of Americans who are ‘masters of marriage’—Asian, religious, college-educated, and conservative Americans—who are especially likely to be forging strong and stable marriages today.” He continues, “marriage is an especially good bet for these groups.”

Dating can be difficult. The mysteries of compatibility and attraction are vast. And the church, it can be argued, should consider assisting the creation of healthy marriages. All these topics fall outside the scope of this column. But, by all general rules, single men should be pursuing marriage. Indeed, for Christian men, the promising data on marital wealth, health, and happiness settles into the shadow of a more majestic reality. Marriage—this high-risk, high-reward enterprise, even in a society with divorce laws in great need of reform—is a profound way for men to mirror Christ’s love for his bride, the church. Marriage is God’s idea and, despite the mess we’ve made, it remains a good idea.

Marriages will be more difficult to secure and preserve in a culture that’s blind and rebelling against God’s designs for sexuality, identity, and the meaning of happiness. But in this cultural moment, Christian marriages become more significant, countercultural, and life-giving projects.

Men’s need for marriage may never have been universally acknowledged, but way back in Eden, the Creator of the universe did indicate that it is “not good” for man to be alone. Christian men would be wise to prioritize the Creator’s insight over that of online influencers.

Christiana Kiefer

Christiana Kiefer is senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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