Why Marriage Matters


Marriage between one man and one woman is one of the most influential and important institutions in our world. It defines and shapes cultures and continually raises up new generations in the security and discipline of a home with a father and mother. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, marriage has been devalued to the point where it has lost much of its legal, religious, and social meaning and authority.

Marriage, however, is the basic building block of society and has benefits over every alternative for all involved – men, women, and children.

Issue Analysis

Government Interest

The government has a legitimate interest in the institution of marriage. Strong marriages form the basis of a stronger, healthier, happier society. The benefits of marriage to individuals and to society as a whole are clear, and government has an interest in supporting and strengthening the institution of marriage. Marriage benefits society and therefore society provides many benefits based on marital status. It does this because marriage is the best way to care for the future of society.

Though some argue that marriage is only a religious issue and government should not be involved, the reality is that government is necessarily involved in marriage because marriage is a binding legal contract both sanctioned and regulated by the state. Many of our most basic legal systems – from inheritance to property to child custody – are tied to the institution of marriage.

Without some legal recognition of marriage, the government would not have a uniform standard by which to award responsibility for children, assign debt, or divide assets in the event of divorce or death. Unless we want to create an unjust, chaotic system in all of those areas of law, it is absurd to say the government should have nothing to do with marriage. Moreover, it is the bringing together of a mother and father that is the link to children’s welfare, which “makes marriage a public good that the state should recognize and support.”[1]

Effect of Marriage on Children

Marriage is not simply a connection between two adults for a long period of time. It is a covenant that affects others around them, especially their children. Particularly over this past generation, with the rise of unwed childbearing and a quick-and-easy-divorce mentality, we see the destruction in the lives of children when the institution of marriage crumbles.

Marriage is no longer considered an institution designed to prioritize the interests of children but is instead focused on the emotional desires of adults. The same can be said of the desire to redefine marriage. However, while not every marriage will have children, every child needs a mom and dad, which is why marriage between one man and one woman serves such an important social purpose.

Social science data repeatedly tells us that children are better off when they are raised with a married mother and father.[2] Mothers and fathers each play a vital role in their children’s lives. Despite the noble efforts of many single parents, widespread fatherlessness has been recognized as a source of many social ills.[3] For just one example, children from broken homes are at least twice as likely to be incarcerated as children from intact homes with a married mother and father, and children who have never known their fathers are at the highest risk.[4] Marriage is society’s mechanism to ensure fathers and mothers are committed to the responsibility of raising any children that their union produces.

Children succeed the most when parented by their married biological mother and father. One study indicates that “it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support child development.”[5]

A 2012 study confirmed this fact when it concluded that “children appear most apt to succeed well as adults … when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father.”[6] Moreover, a recent study based on Canadian census data found that children raised by intact, married biological parents were more likely to graduate high school than children living with homosexual or lesbian families.[7]

A group of family scholars working from various large universities studied the multiple benefits for children who live with their married biological parents. In married families, kids: [8]

  • Live longer, healthier lives both physically and mentally.
  • Do better in school.
  • Are more likely to graduate and attend college.
  • Are less likely to live in poverty.
  • Are less likely to be in trouble with the law.
  • Are less likely to drink or do drugs.
  • Are less likely to be violent or sexually active.
  • Are less likely to be victims of sexual or physical violence.
  • Are more likely to have a successful marriage when they are older.

Adoption by a married man and woman is the next best scenario when biological parents are not available.[9] To this end, in 2011 Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) successfully supported legislation that requires marital status to be considered in adoption placements and establishes a preference for children to be adopted by a married man and woman when all other relevant factors are equal.

This evidence is not the construct of conservative researchers. Across the political spectrum, researchers agree that marriage is best for children.[10] Pitirim Sorokin, who founded the Sociology Department at Harvard University, stated, “The most essential sociocultural patterning of a newborn human organism is achieved by the family … From remotest past, married parents have been the most effective teachers of their children.”[11]

Beyond the data, common sense shows the unique ways fathers and mothers contribute to the development of their children. Fathers often are more adventurous and push their children while the mother can be protective and cautious. Each element is extremely important for giving a child confidence and support while growing up. A mother and father also teach their children by actions and words the importance of each gender.

Effects of Marriage on Husbands and Wives

Marriage is also beneficial for both husbands and wives in physical and mental health, as well as their financial well-being.

Marriage increases personal safety for men and women.

  • Married couples have less than half of the incidence of domestic violence as cohabiting couples.[12]
  • Married men and women are more than three times less likely to be the victims of violent crime than those who are divorced or never married.[13]

Married people are healthier and live longer. As one researcher put it, “Literally hundreds of studies indicate that, on average, married individuals have better physical and mental health than the unmarried.”[14]

  • A happy marriage triples the survival rate from heart bypass surgery, and married men lived longer after bypass, even in self-described unhappy marriages.[15]
  • Marriage also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly risk factors related to heart rate.[16]
  • Women who marry experience an increase in health and a decrease in psychological distress compared to those who do not marry.[17]
  • Single and divorced individuals are generally three times more likely to commit suicide than married people.[18]

Married people are happier on average than those who are unmarried.[19]

  • Married people experience a significant, permanent increase in overall happiness.[20]
  • There does seem to be a cause and effect relationship: it is not just that happy people get married, but marriage gives an actual boost to average happiness.[21]
  • Marriage also reduces depressive symptoms for both men and women.[22]
  • In Arizona, dissatisfaction with life was four times more likely in unmarried men and three times greater for unmarried women than their married counterparts.[23]

Finally, the financial benefits of marriage extend beyond a simple combining of the assets of two people.

  • Married men have higher incomes than unmarried men. Median household incomes of married men rose 60 percent from 1970 to 2007.
  • But, for unmarried men, the rise in real median household income during the same time period was just 16 percent.[24]

Talking Points

  • Marriage has a public purpose and serves a public good. Marriage between one man and one woman ensures the well-being of children and protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and to take responsibility for their children.
  • The union between one man and one woman – marriage – is timeless and universal. The life-giving foundation of marriage is the very thing that created and sustains us.
  • Marriage benefits society – especially children – in ways that no other relationship can. Marriage expresses the truth that men and women bring distinct irreplaceable gifts to family life. Marriage honors humanity’s diversity like no other relationship can.
  • Marriage is good for all parties involved: husbands, wives, and children. A happy marriage triples the survival rate from heart bypass surgery, and married men lived longer after bypass, even in self-described unhappy marriages. Children with married parents do better in school, are less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, and are less likely to get in trouble with the law.


Marriage makes a difference in society. All of these benefits to children and adults from marriage underscore the importance of marriage to society. Marriage transforms men and women in constructive ways towards building responsibility and commitment. Marriage offers social and psychological support to its participants, allowing them to contribute more significantly to the community around them. Marriage also reduces risky behaviors and even protects the environment.[25] These are vital traits of improving our society and maintaining stability. Happy, healthy, productive, well-adjusted citizens are the product of stable, intact homes where men and women support each other and children are raised by married moms and dads.

These are some of the many reasons it is also critical that marriage is never radically redefined. That’s why in 2008, CAP led the effort to define marriage in the Arizona State Constitution as only the union of one man and one woman.


© January 2014 Center for Arizona Policy, Inc. All rights reserved.
This publication includes summaries of many complex areas of law and is not specific legal advice to any person. Consult an attorney if you have questions about your specific situation or believe your legal rights have been infringed. This publication is educational in nature and should not be construed as an effort to aid or hinder any legislation.

[1] Ryan Anderson, et al., What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense 3 (2012).

[2] Mark Regnerus, How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study, 41 Social Science Research 752, 766 (2012), available at www.ac.els-cdn.com/S0049089X12000610/1-s2.0-S0049089X12000610-main.pdf?_tid=68b8fdd2-0f60-11e3-83e4-00000aacb35e&acdnat=1377639430_523ce2c817e5c6494d2340222602d14e; Bradford Wilcox, Fathers Are Not Fungible, New York Times, June 5, 2013, available at www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/06/03/what-are-fathers-for/children-are-better-off-with-a-father-than-without-one; Bradford Wilcox & Kathleen Kovner Kline, Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives (2013); see also Mary Parke, Policy Brief: Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?, Center for Law and Social Policy 1 (May 2003), available at www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications_states/files/0086.pdf (noting that most researchers now agree that, on average, children do best when raised by their two married, biological parents and that “adopted children have very similar outcomes to children raised by both biological parents.”).

[3] Text of Obama’s Fatherhood speech, Politico (June 15, 2011), www.politico.com/news/stories/0608/11094.html (last visited Aug. 27, 2013).

[4] Cynthia C. Harper & Sara S. McLanahan, Father Absence and Youth Incarceration, 14 J. of Res. on Adolescence 369 (2004).

[5] Kristin Anderson Moore, et al., Marriage From a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?, Child Trends (June 2002).

[6] Mark Regnerus, How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study, 41 Social Science Research 752, 766 (2012), available at www.ac.els-cdn.com/S0049089X12000610/1-s2.0-S0049089X12000610-main.pdf?_tid=68b8fdd2-0f60-11e3-83e4-00000aacb35e&acdnat=1377639430_523ce2c817e5c6494d2340222602d14e.

[7] Douglas W. Allen, High school graduation rates among children of same-sex households, Review of Economics of the House hold (Sept. 2013), available at www.link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11150-013-9220-y.

[8] Future of Children, Princeton University, www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=37&articleid=107 (last visited Aug. 27, 2013).

[9] W. Bradford Wilcox & Robin Fretwell Wilson, Bringing Up Baby: Adoption, Marriage, and the Best Interests of the Child, 14 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 883, 897 (2006).

[10] See, e.g., Mary Parke, Policy Brief: Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?, Center for Law and Social Policy 1 (May 2003), available at www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications_states/files/0086.pdf; see also H.F. Belz & D.C. Geary, Fathers Occupation and Social Background: Relation to Test Scores, 21 Am. Educ. Research J. 473–78 (1984) (children from intact families achieve higher SAT scores); William H. Jeynes, The Effects of Several of the Most Common Family Structures on the Academic Achievement of Eighth Graders, 30 Marriage & Fam. Review 73 (2000) (children from intact families earn higher grades, are less likely to be held back, and more likely to graduate from high school); Fary Marks, Family Size, Family Type, and Student achievement: Cross National Differences and the Role of Socioeconomic and School Factors, 37 J. of Comparative Fam. Studies 1–24 (2006) (same); Robert Whelan, Broken Homes and Battered Children (1994) (serious child abuse is far less likely in married families); Andrea Sedlak & Diane Broadhurst, The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Services, xviii, 5–19 (1996) (same); National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II (1996) (teenagers from intact married families are less likely to be sexually active); Judith Rubenstein, et al., Suicidal Behavior in Adolescents: Stress and Protection in Different Family Contexts, 68 Am. J. of Orthopsychiatry 274–84 (1998) (intact mother/father families is the strongest protective factor against suicidal behavior).

[11] Pitirim Sorokin, Society, Culture, and Personality, 246-247 (1947).

[12] Jan E. Stets & Murray A. Straus, The Marriage License as a Hitting License: A Comparison of Assaults in Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Couples, Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors And Adaptations to Violence In 8,145 Families (1989) (noting rate of domestic violence of 35 per 100 cohabiting couples versus 15 per 100 married couples).

[13] Department of Justice, Victimization rates for persons age 12 or older, by type of crime and marital status of victims, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2011 – Statistical Tables (2011), available at www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv11.pdf (showing rate of violent crimes against married individuals at 11.0 per 1000 versus 35.5 per 1000 for those who never married and 35.2 per 1000 for those who are divorced).

[14] Kristi Williams, et al., For Better or For Worse? The Consequences of Marriage and Cohabitation for Single Mothers, 86 Social Forces 1481, 1494, 1497 (2008).

[15] Kathleen King & H.T. Reis, Marriage and Long-term Survival after Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting, Health Psychology (Aug. 2011).

[16] Gemma Randall, et al., Marital Status and Heart Rate Variability in Patients with Suspected Coronary Artery Disease, 38 Annals of Behav. Med. 115 (2009), available at www.springerlink.com/content/008377475w1180p5/fulltext.pdf.

[17] Kristi Williams, et al., For Better or For Worse? The Consequences of Marriage and Cohabitation for Single Mothers, 86 Social Forces 1481, 1494, 1497 (2008).

[18] Clare Griffiths, et al., Trends in Suicide by Marital Status in England and Wales, 1982-2005, in 37 Off. for Nat’l Stat. Health Stat. Q. 8, 11 (2008), available at www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/hsq/health-statistics-quarterly/no–37–spring-2008/trends-in-suicide-by-marital-status-in-england-and-wales-1982-2005.pdf.

[19] Richard Easterlin, Explaining Happiness, 100 Proc. of Nat’l Acad. of Sci. 11176, 11178 (2003), available at www.pnas.org/content/100/19/11176.full.pdf; Are We Happy Yet?, Pew Research Center (2006), www.pewresearch.org/pubs/301/are-we-happy-yet (last visited Aug. 27, 2013).

[20] Samai Qari, Marriage, adaptation and happiness: Are there long-lasting gains to marriage?, Max Planck Research Center for Tax Law and Public Finance, Working Paper (2010), available at www.tax.mpg.de/shared/data/events/2010-07_taxation_and_family/2010_05_12_longrun_gains_two_pages.pdf.

[21] Easterlin, supra note 17, at 11178.

[22] Heather L. Kobell, et al., What Do We Know About the Link Between Marriage and Health?, 31 Journal of Family Issues 1019, 1025 (2010); Kathleen A. Lamb, et al., Union Formation and Depression: Selection and Relationship Effects, 65 J. of Marriage and Fam. 953 (2003); Simon, Robin W, Revisiting the Relationships Among Gender, Marital Status, and Mental Health, 4 Am. J. of Soc. 1065 (2002); Nadine F. Marks & James David Lambert, Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults, 19 J. of Fam. Issues 652 (1998).

[23] Christopher K. Mrela, et al., Marital Status and Health: Arizona Residents, 2006, Arizona Department of Health Services, Bureau of Public Health Statistics (May 2008), available at www.azdhs.gov/phs/phstats/brfs/other/maritalstatus2006.pdf.

[24] Richard Fry & D’VeraCohn, Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage, Pew Research Center (2010), available at www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/11/new-economics-of-marriage.pdf.

[25] Juliet Eilperin, Divorce Found to Harm The Environment With Higher Energy, Water Use, Wash. Post (Dec. 4, 2007), available at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/03/AR2007120301797.html.