The Top Ten Myths of Marriage
By David Popenoe
Your beliefs about marriage might be based on fiction
rather than fact. Check out these common marriage
myths compiled by David Popenoe for the National
- Marriage benefits men much
more than women.
Truth: Contrary to earlier and widely publicized reports,
recent research finds men and women to benefit about
equally from marriage, although in different ways.
Both men and women live longer, happier, healthier
lives when they are married. Husbands typically gain
greater health benefits while wives gain greater financial
- Having children typically brings a married
couple closer together and increases marital happiness.
Truth: Many studies have shown that the arrival of
the first baby commonly has the effect of pushing
and father farther apart and bringing stress to the
marriage. However, couples with children have a slightly
rate of divorce than childless couples.
- The keys to long-term marital success are
good luck and romantic love.
Truth: Rather than luck and love, the most common
reasons couples give for their long-term marital
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
The happiest couples are friends who share lives
and are compatible in interests and values.
- The more educated a woman becomes, the
lower are her chances of getting married.
Truth: A recent study based on marriage rates in
the mid-1990s concluded that today’s women
college graduates are more likely to marry than their
peers, despite their older age at first marriage.
This is a change from the past, when women with more
were less likely to marry.
- Couples who live together before marriage,
and are thus able to test how well suited they
other, have more satisfying and longer-lasting marriages
couples who do not.
Truth: Many studies have found that those who live
together before marriage have less satisfying marriages
considerably higher chance of eventually breaking
up. One reason is that people who cohabit may be
of commitment and more likely to call it quits when
In addition, the very act of living together may
lead to attitudes that make happy marriages more
The findings of one recent study suggest "there
may be less motivation for cohabiting partners to develop
their conflict resolution and support skills." (One
important exception: 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).
- People can’t be expected to stay
in a marriage for a lifetime as they did in the
past because we
live so much longer today.
Truth: Unless our comparison goes back a hundred
years, there is no basis for this belief. The enormous
in longevity is due mainly to a steep reduction in
infant mortality. And while adults today can expect
a little longer than their grandparents, they also
marry at a later age. The life span of a typical,
divorce-free marriage, therefore, has not changed
much in the past
fifty years. Also, many couples call it quits long
they get to a significant anniversary: half of all
divorces take place by the seventh year of a marriage.
- Marrying puts a woman at greater risk of
domestic violence than if she remains single.
Truth: Contrary to the proposition that for men "a
marriage license is a hitting license," 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 for this finding is that
married women may 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 more integrated
into the extended family and community. These social
forces seem to help check men’s violent behavior.
- Married people have less satisfying sex
lives, and less sex, than single people.
Truth: According to a large-scale national study,
married people have both more and better sex than
unmarried counterparts . Not only do they have sex
more often but
they enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally.
- Cohabitation is just like marriage, but
piece of paper."
Truth: Cohabitation typically does not bring the
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
cohabitants tend not to be as committed as married
couples, and they are more oriented toward their
autonomy and less to the well-being of their partner.
- Because of the high divorce rate, which
weeds out the unhappy marriages, people who stay
happier marriages than people did in the past when
it out, no matter how bad the marriage.
According to several large national surveys, the
general level of happiness in marriages has
and probably has declined slightly. Some studies
have found significantly more work-related stress,
marital conflict and less marital interaction
in recent marriages
compared to those of twenty or thirty years ago.
For the full text of this article including sources,
please visit the National
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