The wages of the married are high, commitment is good for the libido, and, despite 30 years of arguments to the contrary, happiness may just depend on reciting the wedding vow, according to Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher. After sifting through the evidence and conducting their own studies, the authors conclude that marriage is beneficial and transformational, and that neither cohabitation nor swinging singledom are all they're cracked up to be. In fact, it turns out that marriage is a public heath issue: being single can take almost 10 years off a man's life, while wifely nagging really is good for his health. Getting and keeping a wife can also increase a man's income as much as an education. Waite and Gallagher debunk a number of myths about marriage, including the one that says men get a better deal. Acknowledging that there may have been some truth to this in the past, better equity in modern marriages means that women make out just as well as men, though in different ways. Divorce--not marriage--is especially bad for women's health; parenting young children--not marriage--is the usual source of depression seen in mothers; and battering is significantly more common in cohabitating couples.
So, what does threaten marriage? For one, the insecurity engendered by the cultural acceptance of divorce. Couples are now less willing to invest fully in each other, the authors write, while "commitment produces contentment; uncertainty creates agony." Cultural indifference towards marriage is the other big downer. Because marriage is a public commitment, it can "work its miracles only if it is supported by the whole society." Not surprisingly, divorce gets a very bad rap as Waite and Gallagher pull out the heavyweight facts, particularly when it comes to its effect on children. The good news, though, is that marriage is resilient--five years down the road most couples who considered but resisted divorce found that they were happy again. Since Americans are still the marrying kind despite the cynicism, fear, and laissez-faire attitudes, The Case for Marriage makes a reassuring and compelling case for keeping on keeping on. --Lesley Reed
Waite and Gallagher overstate contemporary attacks on marriage, but they make a valid point that the revered institution has suffered stings lately. They cite the steady rise in divorce and in cohabitation, unwed parenthood, and the perception among some of marriage as a tradition. The authors note troubling trends that indicate that despite polls showing Americans rank a happy marriage as their primary goal, "when it comes to marriage, Americans have both high hopes and debilitating fears." The authors combat every negative myth regarding marriage--that it imprisons women or provides the context for abuse--with statistics showing its benefits: married people live longer, are healthier, have greater wealth and happiness, have sex more often, and provide a healthier, happier environment in which to raise children. Waite and Gallagher make their arguments in the context of the struggle between individualism and community interests, "between freedom and love." They also examine public policies that threaten to undermine marriage and what the government, courts, private sector, and individuals can do to strengthen this time-honored institution. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved