Top 10 Myths About Marriage
Separating Relationship Myths From Realities. Do children make a couple happier?
Our cultural views influence how we approach and assess relationships. Take marriage: Most of us have been exposed to myths about this institution – myths that derive from sensationalistic media reporting of a single scientific study, opinions that may have been inspired by the sexual revolution movement or good old-fashioned advice. As part of the National Marriage Project, sociologist David Popenoe of Rutgers University has studied the facts of marriage vs. our assumptions. The findings from his team question some of our common societal views about marriage.
Q: Does marriage benefit men more than women?
A: Contrary to earlier and widely publicized reports, recent research finds that men and women benefit about equally from marriage, although in different ways. Both men and women live longer, happier, healthier and wealthier lives when they are married.
Q: Does having children typically bring a married couple closer together and increase marital happiness?
A: Many studies have shown that the arrival of the first baby commonly has the effect of pushing the mother and father further apart and bringing stress to the marriage. However, couples with children have a slightly lower rate of divorce than childless couples.
Q: Are the keys to long-term marital success good luck and romantic love?
A: Rather than luck and love, the most common reasons couples give for their long-term marital success are commitment and companionship. They define their marriage as a creation that has taken hard work, dedication and commitment (to each other and to the institution of marriage). The happiest couples are friends who share lives and are compatible in interests and values.
Q: Do women with higher levels of education have a lower chance of getting married?
A: A recent study based on marriage rates in the mid-1990s concluded that female college graduates today are more likely to marry than their non-college peers, despite their older age at first marriage. This is a change from the past, when women with more education were less likely to marry.
Q: Do couples who live together before marriage have more satisfying and longer-lasting marriages than couples who do not?
A : Many studies have found that those who live together before marriage have less satisfying marriages and a considerably higher chance of eventually breaking up. One reason is that people who cohabitate might be more wary of commitment and more likely to call it quits when problems arise. But in addition, the very act of living together may lead to attitudes that make happy marriages more difficult. The findings of one recent study, for example, suggest “there may be less motivation for cohabiting partners to develop their conflict resolution and support skills.” (An important caveat: Cohabiting couples who are already planning to marry each other in the near future have just as good a chance at staying together as couples who don't live together before marriage).
Q: Is it true that people can't be expected to stay married for a lifetime because we live so much longer today?
A: Unless our comparison goes back a hundred years, there is no basis for this belief. The enormous increase in longevity is due mainly to a steep reduction in infant mortality. And while adults today can expect to live a little longer than their grandparents, they also marry at a later age. The lifespan of a typical, divorce-free marriage, therefore, has not changed much in the past 50 years. Also, many couples call it quits long before they get to a significant anniversary: Half of all divorces take place by the seventh year of a marriage.
Q: Does marriage put a woman at greater risk of domestic violence than if she remains single?
A: A large body of research shows that being unmarried – and especially living with a man outside of marriage – is associated with a considerably higher risk of domestic violence for women. One reason is that married women significantly underreport domestic violence. Further, women are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce a man who is violent. Yet it is probably also the case that married men are less likely to commit domestic violence because they are more invested in their wives' well-being, and are more integrated into the extended family and community.
Q: Do married people have less-satisfying sex lives, and less sex, than single people?
A: According to a large-scale national study, married people have both more and better sex than do their unmarried counterparts. Not only do they have sex more often but they enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally. One reason for this could be that married couples have a greater motivation to develop clear communication between the couple and, over a sustainable time, as people let down their emotional guard, they feel more comfortable presenting how they honestly feel.
Q: Is cohabitation just like marriage but without the piece of paper?
Answer: Cohabitation typically does not bring the benefits – in physical health, wealth and emotional well-being – that marriage does. In terms of these benefits, cohabitants in the United States more closely resemble singles than married couples. This is due, in part, to the fact that cohabitants tend not to be as committed as married couples, and they are more oriented toward their own personal autonomy and less to the well-being of their partner.
Q: Is it true that because of the high divorce rate people who stay married have happier marriages than people did in the past when everyone stuck it out, no matter how bad the marriage?
A: According to what people have reported in several large national surveys, the general level of happiness in marriages has not increased and probably has declined slightly. Some studies have found in recent marriages, compared to those of 20 or 30 years ago, significantly more work-related stress, more marital conflict and less marital interaction.
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