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January 6, 2001
Column #1010

''THE CASE FOR MARRIAGE''

     Instead of wishing people a ''Happy New Year,'' why not give them a book that can actually ensure a Happy New Year?

     The landmark book is ''The Case For Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially'' by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher. It even asserts that those in a bad marriage who stick it out, find their marriage becomes happy!

     We live in a culture that undervalues marriage. ''Our nation is threatened by a high divorce rate, a rise in cohabitation, a rise in non-marital births, a decline in the marriage rate and a diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying, especially among young people,'' says the Christian Declaration on Marriage released recently by Protestant and Catholic leaders.

     ''A Case For Marriage'' captures such a headwind and still moves forward like a sailboat. It is packed with persuasive data based on hundreds of studies:

    l. Life: A married woman aged 48 has an 92% chance of living to age 65; but a divorced woman's odds are only 82%. A married man at age 48 has an 88% chance of living till age 65, but a divorced man has only a 65% odds of survival! Why? ''Married men really do settle down, while men who aren't married voluntarily behave in ways that endanger their own life and health,'' says the book. Single men drink twice as much as married men, are more likely to drink and drive and to smoke. Similarly, when men lose their wives to divorce or death, they resume bachelor habits and are four times as likely to be in car crashes or to commit suicide.

    2. Happiness: Married people are twice as likely as those who are single for whatever reason to say they are ''very happy.'' Some 40% of married couples say they are very happy, compared to 15% of the separated, 18% of the divorced. What's surprising is that only 22% of the never-married and cohabitants are very happy, the same as widows.

     3. Wealth: A married couple in their 50's in 1994 had net assets of $132,000, or $66,000 per person. But a divorced person's assets are just $33,600. Surprisingly, a never-married person aged 55 has a net worth of only $35,000; the separated, a pitiful $7,600. Why? A married man  earns 30 percent more than a single man with the same education. And the happier his marriage, the larger his earnings gap. Conversely, if his marriage breaks down, his wage premium erodes.

     Why? The married man won't go to work hung over, exhausted or tardy because of fewer bachelor habits and because he eats better and sees the doctor sooner thanks to his wife. She is also a good adviser on career decisions, and relieves him of chores so he can do a better job.

    4. Sex: ''Married sex really is better sex,'' report Waite and Gallagher. ''Married women are almost twice as likely as divorced or never-married women to have a sex life that (a) exists  and (b) is extremely emotionally satisfying.'' Some 43 percent of married men had sex at least twice a week vs. only 26 percent of single men. Both sexes ''enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally than do their unmarried counterparts.'' Why? ''The secret ingredient that marriage adds is commitment'' which ''increases sexual pleasure for both sexes.''

     These are excellent reasons why singles should marry. But if marriage is so great, why do so many divorce? First, Americans invest less moral, spiritual, cultural, political energy in supporting marriage. Why? Many rationalize alternatives to marriage, such as divorce, cohabitation or unwed childbearing. Too many say, ''We are Christians, but we are getting divorced.'' No. If you are Christian, be loving and work at your marriage.

     '''I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel (Malachi 2:16).''

     ''Permissive divorce attitudes do more than encourage divorce. They actually make happy marriage less likely,'' states ''The Case For Marriage.'' When people aren't certain their marriage will last, they invest less time in the relationship and take fewer steps to resolve disagreements.

     But what if a person is in a bad marriage? Isn't divorce acceptable? No. Consider this: 86 percent of unhappily married people who stick it out find that, five years later, their marriages are happier. In fact, three-fifths say their marriages are now very happy or quite happy!

     Oddly, this is news to our culture. Secular evidence simply backs up Scripture. ''The Lord God said, `It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'''

     This book's powerful but simple message is: Get married and stay married.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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