Building Better Husbands

Do men still want to get married? Or has a culture of casual sex and cohabitation made men lose all interest in marriage? A new report from Rutgers University provides some fascinating insights into a subject that's often misunderstood. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe in "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why" -- part of Rutgers's annual "State of Our Unions" report -- write that we know less than we think we do about young men and their attitudes toward marriage. They note that young married men are hardly ever portrayed in popular culture, as if there are none. "Yet . . . in 2002, there were 9.5 million married men between the ages of 25 and 34. And contrary to the popular stereotype, the typical thirty-something guy is a married guy." Moreover, many men in the 25-to-34 age group have positive feelings about marriage. Ninety-four percent of young married men that the authors surveyed "say that they are happier being married than being single." And although many of the young single men in the survey planned to delay marriage for a while, only one in five does not intend to marry. It's encouraging to know that so many younger men still hold marriage in high regard. As Whitehead and Popenoe point out, marriage changes men in ways that dating and cohabitation don't. Being married improves men's health, finances, job success, and other aspects of their lives. And in turn, the authors say, "marriage includes a norm of male altruism." It teaches men to put their family's needs ahead of their own and encourages them to work to better their society. Unfortunately, there's also some bad news here. Our culture still isn't doing a very good job of preparing men for marriage. Men are freely offered alternatives, like cohabitation, that damage their attitudes toward women as well as their understanding of marriage. This may be why the evidence suggests that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce. So it's worth asking what factors encourage men to get married and help them build successful marriages. What Whitehead and Popenoe found isn't surprising: Men with strong religious faith and men raised in intact two-parent families "are significantly more likely to marry and to have positive views of marriage and family life." Interestingly, men from traditional families also had a better view of women than did young men from single-parent households. These findings are backed up by a recent book titled Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands. Author W. Bradford Wilcox analyzed an enormous amount of data about three groups: conservative Protestants, mainline Protestants, and those with no religious affiliation. He came to a conclusion that doesn't surprise us: that is, conservative Protestant men come closest to the ideal of what a husband and father should be. Contrary to popular stereotypes, these men are more affectionate and more "engaged emotionally" with their wives and children. Their faith directly inspires their view of their role in the family. So there's no need to despair just yet about the state of marriage. There are still quite a few men out there who are "the marrying kind" -- men inspired by their Christian worldview. For further reading and information: Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why," The State of Our Unions, The National Marriage Project, 2004. "How to tell if he's the 'marrying kind'," MSNBC, 24 June 2004.
  1. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands(University of Chicago Press, 2004).
Rob Vaughn, "Still in Love," BreakPoint Online, 20 May 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040609, "Real Romance: What Marriage Should Be." (Note: includes spoilers of the movie The Notebook.) Maggie Gallagher, "Talking Points on Marriage and Same-Sex Unions," Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, 2004. (Reprinted on BreakPoint Online.) See BreakPoint's sanctity of marriage resource page. Call 1-877-322-5527 to request the free BreakPoint marriage amendment information packet and the free "Talking Points on Marriage and Same-Sex Unions." Also available is the Speak the Truth in Love resource kit (suggested donation: $25).


Chuck Colson


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