Maybe it’s because I’m getting married again that makes me have marriage on the mind. In any event, on the day I marry I will apparently be doing more than just saying “I do.”
According to a piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times, I will be taking a stand on a cultural divide. I’m shocked: It appears I will be on the side of the Times.
I’ve written a good deal about the importance of marriage, how it contributes to the well-being of women and children and communities. Oh yes — and men, too.
But more than once in trying to convey to friends and readers why marriage is important, to me and to our society, I’ve felt a little alone. Just last week I had a young local reporter interview me and ask, as if he thought it were a quaint idea that might be fun to explore: “You write about marriage a good bit, but just why is it you think marriage is so important?”
In “Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do,’ ” writer Jason DeParle looks at the stunning differences between the life of a single mom, Jessica Schairer, and that of her married friend and boss, Chris Faulkner. Though Faulkner makes a somewhat higher income than Schairer at the day-care center they both run, it does not account for their fundamental difference in life experience. As DeParle puts it, because Faulkner is married, “the Faulkner family (has) a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and (that) makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.”
Faulkner is clearly the happier of the two women. For one thing, simply having a husband allows her to more fully enjoy being a mother. Schairer isn’t just scraping by — she is exhausted and overwhelmed. DeParle, of course, uses the women as avatars for what we find in the culture.
Though DeParle himself doesn’t go into the statistics, the social-science data is clear that married women are, on average, significantly happier than their single sisters.
Chris’ husband Kevin is an involved dad. It’s not an accident. DeParle writes that sociologists believe there is something about marriage itself that often makes men, well, grow up. (That’s a big “duh,” but I’ll take it.)
For countless reasons, when it comes to family and parenting, there is typically more safety, security and happiness in the number “two.”
DeParle dispassionately chronicles the different life trajectories of these families and the families they represent. Schairer, who was raised in a community and family that valued marriage, admits that, in dropping out of college and making the choice to have children by a boyfriend she never married, she created the very difficult situation she and her children are living in. In contrast, Faulkner finished college and had her first child after getting married. That’s important, because today’s college-educated women are far less likely than less-educated women to have children out of wedlock, and they are less likely to divorce.
Marriage rates are plummeting and rates of single parenthood are skyrocketing. The divide is becoming a cultural chasm.
Sure, after eight years of being single due to an unwanted divorce and parenting four kids full time, I admit I’m glad to be going back to the other side of the marriage divide. Believe me: I’m not congratulating myself; I am simply thanking God for Tom. Yet looking back on my years of single parenthood now, it occurs to me that I’ve sort of had the mentality of a married person living in a single person’s body. I’ve always known that marriage really matters.
That’s not news.
But for the Gray Lady, that bastion of progressive, feminist, elite thought, to lay out so graphically for its readers the terrible downfalls of the marriage gap — and right there on the front page of Sunday’s edition, no less? It makes me think there is, at least, hope that sanity might, just might, return to our culture on this issue. Now that is news that’s fit to print.
Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org.