In Defense of Marriage

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

In Defense of Marriage

Jun 30, 2003 3 min read

Marriage works.


That's why President Bush wants to spend $300 million next year to help new parents build healthy marriages. That's about a penny for every $5 we spend to help with the many problems caused by single-parent families.


Seems reasonable enough. After all, a 1996 study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family showed both married men and married women are happier than single people. And no wonder. Heritage Foundation research proves that, on average, married people live longer, have a better education, make more money and are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.


Meanwhile, the 1996 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health proved children raised in single-parent homes are much more likely to be depressed and to have developmental, behavioral and emotional problems; such children are also more likely to fail in school, use drugs and engage in early sexual activity.


No one doubts that marriage is good for all involved. Well, almost no one. A handful of radical feminists are opposed to the president's measure. "Finding a man -- the [Bush] administration's approved ticket out of poverty -- is terrible public policy," says Kim Gandy, head of the National Organization for Women. "Marrying women off to get them out of poverty is not only backward, it is insulting to women."


Of course, the president's plan doesn't attempt to force women, or men for that matter, into unhealthy marriages. All participation in the president's marriage program would be voluntary. In general, programs would focus on younger couples before or around the time of the birth of a first child. These are people who are already dating, even living together, but have not tied the knot. Almost all say they would like to marry their partner.


The initiative would use successful marriage-skills education programs. Many of these, such as one called "Couple Communication," have been in use for decades. A 1999 analysis of that program in the American Journal of Family Therapy found couples that took the training experienced moderate to large gains in communication skills, marital satisfaction, and other relationship qualities. The pro-marriage initiative would go beyond merely seeking to increase marriage rates among target couples. It also would provide ongoing support to help at-risk couples maintain healthy marriages over the long term.


Why are these feminists so opposed to the initiative? Maybe because they're stuck in the 1960s, when bashing marriage was a staple of feminist dogma. Back then, Marlene Dixon, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, wrote: "The institution of marriage is the chief vehicle for the perpetuation of the oppression of women. It is through the role of wife that the subjugation of women is maintained." In 1970, radical feminist intellectual Shulamith Firestone, chimed in, "The institution [of marriage] consistently proves itself unsatisfactory-even rotten. The family is directly connected to-is even the cause of-the ills of the larger society."


Luckily, today those women are in the minority. During his 1994 State of the Union address, President Clinton announced, "The American people have got to want to change from within if we're going to bring back work and family and community. We cannot renew our country when, within a decade, more than half of the children will be born into families where there has been no marriage." In fact, the radical feminist animosity to marriage is not widely shared by any group within American society, rich or poor, black, Hispanic or white. It would be a tragedy for America's children and families if the NOW Legal Defense Fund and similar radical groups succeeded in their efforts to block or cripple the president's healthy marriage proposal.


The problem is that, in Congress, such major feminist organizations enjoy considerable influence. These groups, boxed in by the tired ideas of the past, are spearheading the opposition to the president's healthy marriage initiative.


Marriage, as an institution, has enormous economic benefits for mothers and children. Heritage Foundation research has shown that children raised by never-married mothers are seven times more likely to be poor when compared to children raised in intact married families. In addition, a Heritage Foundation analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that stable marriage dramatically improves the emotional well being of children. And a 1998 "General Social Survey" by the National Opinion Research Center showed married people are more that twice as likely to be happy as divorced or never married people are.


The president wants to help support that, and Congress should ignore radical feminists and support him. After all, spending $300 million to build healthy marriages is a small investment that will pay big long-term dividends.


Melissa Pardue is the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Social Welfare Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Appeared on