Is Marriage Outdated?
Is it a sign of the times that researchers suggest the longstanding belief that marriage conveys unique physical and psychological benefits is outdated?
A new study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that marriage provides few additional benefits compared to couples living together.
While researchers did discover marriage and cohabitation provide benefits compared to being single, even then, the positive attributes were found to lessen over time following the honeymoon.
“Marriage has long been an important social institution, but in recent decades Western societies have experienced increases in cohabitation, before or instead of marriage, and increases in children born outside of marriage,” said Kelly Musick, Ph.D., of Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology.
“These changes have blurred the boundaries of marriage, leading to questions about what difference marriage makes in comparison to alternatives.”
Earlier research supported a link between marriage and well-being, but the studies often compared marriage to being single, or compared marriages and cohabitations at a single point in time.
This study takes a different approach, focusing on the changes that take place over time when single men and women move into marriage or cohabitation.
Researchers sampled 2,737 single men and women, 896 of whom married or moved in with a partner over the course of six years. The study focused on key areas of well-being, considering questions on happiness, levels of depression, health, and social ties.
The results showed a increase in well-being immediately following both marriage and cohabitation as couples experienced a honeymoon period with higher levels of happiness and fewer depressive symptoms compared to singles. However, researchers found that these advantages were short-lived.
Marriage and cohabitation both resulted in less contact with parents and friends compared to remaining single – and these effects appeared to persist over time.
“We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period. Also, while married couples experienced health gains – likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared health care plans – cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem.
“For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth,” said Musick.
Compared to most industrial countries, America continues to value marriage above other family forms, according to Musick.
“However, our research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits,” she said.
Nauert PhD, R. (2012). Is Marriage Outdated?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/01/19/is-marriage-outdated/33864.html