Men Not Immune to Marriage

Report Challenges a Media Stereotype

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NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, OCT. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Men are marrying later, but most still want to form a family. This is the conclusion of a recent study by the National Marriage Project, based at Rutgers State University of New Jersey. This year's report on "The State of Our Unions" bears the subtitle "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why."



The report argues that most men are still "the marrying kind." Their survey of young heterosexual males showed that those from traditional, religiously observant family backgrounds are more likely to be married, to seek marriage and to have positive views of marriage, women and children.

The report's authors, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, observed that when it comes to dealing with young men, most popular novels, movies and television shows "are obsessed with the thirty-something single man and his romantic pursuits." In fact, "the young husband has virtually disappeared as a cultural figure or a social type."

In spite of this media stereotype, young married men are an important part of the population, the report insisted. In 2002, there were 9.5 million married men ages 25 to 34. "And contrary to the popular stereotype, the typical thirty-something guy is a married guy," the report notes.

The report starts observes that marriage is a hot topic. Part of the Bush administration's plans for welfare reform seeks to provide $1.5 billion to provide access to marriage education, skills training and counseling resources for low-income couples who choose to marry. Congress has also enacted tax reforms to help married couples.

At the state level, programs to help married couples are already being tried out. And there are a multitude of community and grass-roots initiatives seeking to promote and defend marriage. Researchers are also paying attention to marriage, after what Whitehead and Popenoe term "several decades of neglect of the subject."

Better off wed

Whitehead and Popenoe argue that marriage has an even greater lifestyle impact on men that it does for women. Studies show that married men "work harder and do better financially than men who are not married." Moreover, they are less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, and more likely to be involved in religious and community events.

A key factor in these changes is the emotional and physical care wives provide for their husbands. However, it is not just a question of sharing a home with a female partner. Married men are, in fact, better off in a number of social indicators than men who cohabit. This is to do with the nature of marriage itself, the report contends. "Once married, men are supposed work and care for others. They are expected to voluntarily donate their time and money to their wives and children and also, to a lesser degree, to kin who may need their help."

And, even if less so than in the past, marriage is still expected to last for a long time, leading men to take a longer-term view, instead of living day to day looking for immediate gratification. Marriage also sets limits on men's behavior, requiring men to be faithful. Overall, "marital norms of masculinity call for accountability, sacrifice and commitment rather than sensation-seeking, risk-taking and unfettered freedom."

No pressure

The data from the survey conducted for the report showed that 63% of married men were living with both parents at age 15, compared with 55% of men who were unmarried. Having parents who regularly went to religious services, and a father who was involved in their lives, were also factors more common among young married men. The young married men themselves are also more religious, with nearly half saying they go to religious services several times a month, compared with less than a quarter of the unmarrieds.

The vast majority, 85%, of the married men denied that they had married due to pressure from their future wives. "Most married young men see their decision to wed as a choice and commitment they make freely and for their own reasons," affirmed the report. Another important factor is finding a woman they think will be a good mother, something that 75% of the men declared was a factor in choosing a wife.

And almost all, 94%, of the married men say they are happier being married than when they were single. With 70% of the married men living in a household with children they are also more likely to declare that "watching children grow up is life's greatest joy." They are also more likely to want more than one child.

Nevertheless, the study did show that, compared to earlier generations of men, are not so likely to regard marriage as closely connected to "building a family." The majority of those surveyed, including those married, declared that children are not an important reason for marriage. "Thus, though marriage remains an important transitional event in men's lives, it is increasingly disconnected from traditional notions of male adulthood or aspirations to fatherhood," concludes the report.

Why the delay

In spite of the advantages of marriage, there is a general trend to putting off the decision until an older age, the report notes. In the United States, as recently as 1970, the median age of first marriage for men was 23; today it is approaching 27. And for college educated men, the median age of first marriage is likely to be a year or two older.

Whitehead and Popenoe note that researchers often cite two causes of this trend: more time spent in higher education and difficulties in finding secure employment. They also point to additional factors such as a later transition to adulthood, with fewer social or family pressures to marry young as part of the process of becoming independent.

As well, young men today face little pressure to marry if they father a child while still single.

Allied with this is that young men today can live in a "singles culture" that allows them to exploit some of the sexual and domestic benefits of marriage, without making the long-term commitment.

In fact, the survey carried out by the National Marriage Project showed that 22% declared that marriage was not for them. This group is more likely to mistrust women, be worried about the risk of divorce, more likely to not want children, and to be concerned about losing their personal freedom.

Another factor that allows men to delay marriage is that, unlike women, they "do not have to worry about a ticking biological clock" that would prevent them from fathering children at an older age.

Additionally, the survey showed that the vast majority of young men are looking for a "soul mate who will fulfill their emotional, sexual and spiritual desires and who will also share bread-winning responsibilities." The search for this ideal companion plays a part in putting off marriage until a later date.

While noting there are indeed many factors leading to delayed marriages, the report concludes that the media stereotype of men being allergic to making a commitment does not accurately reflect reality. "Most young men," the reports insists, "are still 'the marrying kind.'"