- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Marriage is more than "just a sheet of paper" it's an insurance policy that more often than not brings couples long lives, good health, fat bank accounts and personal happiness, say two authors who base their conclusions on hundreds of studies and surveys.

Despite this, many Americans especially young people are wrestling with the thought of getting married. They want it, but they fear it, say Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book, "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better off Financially," released this week by Doubleday.

The authors say the evidence about the benefits of marriage is "overwhelming" and call on parents, counselors, lawmakers, clergy and community leaders to do all they can to revive marriage.

"Marriage cannot thrive, and may not even survive, in a culture that views it as just another lifestyle option," they warn.

Pro-marriage advocates are captivated by the book.

"The Case for Marriage" is likely to be "the new bible for every 'smart' marriage educator," said Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in the District of Columbia.

Kudos also come from noted marriage counselor and author John Gottman, Brookings Institution scholar Isabel V. Sawhill and the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, a Chicago priest and author.

Ms. Waite, a demographer and sociology professor at the University of Chicago, said she decided to write "The Case for Marriage" because she could see that marriage and remarriage rates were steadily slipping while divorce rates remained high.

She also was hearing disparaging comments about marriage from friends and family things like the marriage license was "just a piece of paper" or that marriage was harmful to women.

To find out whether marriage mattered, Ms. Waite sifted through years of large national surveys, comparing married people with unmarried people in all demographic groups.

She found that married people came out ahead in dozens of categories, including longevity, physical health, mental health, sexual satisfaction and financial assets.

The evidence is "screamingly" clear that marriage is not only desirable, but it's the healthiest model for adults, children and society, said Ms. Waite, who is also the co-director of the Alfred P. Sloan Working Families Center in Chicago.

The book makes "a scientific case about the broad and powerful consequences of marriage for children and adults," said Miss Gallagher, director of the Marriage Project at the Institute for American Values and a syndicated columnist.

The book has "new arguments and new information," she added.

For instance, a key asset of marriage is its unique vow of permanence, which allows spouses to develop and invest in a long-term strategy to handle challenges together, said the authors, who are married but use their maiden names professionally.

"Singles must accomplish all of life's tasks themselves," they wrote. "But in a marriage, each partner can choose from among the things that have to be done, according to what he or she especially likes or does especially well."

The book also challenges the notion that "a bad marriage is a fixed and certain thing," said Miss Gallagher.

Unhappy marriages do not necessarily stay that way, she said, citing research by Ms. Waite that found that 86 percent of couples who rated their marriage as unhappy in 1988 but stayed together, said they were happier five years later.

The authors further assert that marriage is not a purely private relationship, despite comments like that of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who once said "the only two people who count in any marriage are the two who are in it."

Such a view of marriage "is objectively wrong," said the authors. "When you marry, the public commitment you made changes the way you think about yourself and your beloved; it changes the way you act and think about the future; and it changes how other people and other institutions treat you as well."

Some experts question whether the case for marriage is airtight. Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington and member of the Council on Contemporary Families, said the book draws a lot of conclusions without differentiating whether they stem from "weak data" or "strong data." The New York-based council was formed in 1996 to promote support for all kinds of families.

Ms. Schwartz, who also is married but uses her maiden name professionally, further questions the book's unabashed call to revive marriage.

"There's nothing that's right for everybody," she said.

The feminist revolution, the sexual revolution and the divorce revolution wouldn't have come about if the traditional marriage model worked so well, she said.

People who are "not suited" to be married or have children shouldn't feel pressured to do those things, nor should cohabitants, who may be making the best commitment they can make, be pushed into "more of a commitment," she said.

"While I think there are many things to celebrate about marriage," concluded Ms. Schwartz, "I don't think it is a uniformly good-fitting institution … the idea of choice is very precious."

Lois Gold, a marriage counselor and divorce mediator in Portland, Ore., said that some couples who see the data in "The Case for Marriage" might fight harder to preserve their union. However, she doubts that just knowing that marriage is beneficial will be "sufficient" to affect divorce rates.

In most cases, "divorce is the last alternative," said Ms. Gold, who is divorced and wrote the 1992 book, "Between Love and Hate: A Guide to Civilized Divorce."

Of the 1,000 or so "divorcing or separating couples I've seen," she added, none took the decision lightly or entered into it "without enormous anguish, pain and discussion." Moreover, some 90 percent of the couples had been through marriage counseling, she said.

However, Judith Mueller, founder of the Women's Center in Vienna who has not read "The Case for Marriage" yet, says she knows the good news about marriage is there.

The center was born 25 years ago "just as no-fault divorce was taking off we were helping women get divorced," she said.

After seeing the personally traumatic, financially "horrendous" experiences of women who divorced, the center's focus has turned "180 degrees the other way," she said. Now it does a lot of prenuptial counseling, couples counseling, family strengthening and family preservation, she said.

Mrs. Mueller "absolutely" believes that a case for marriage needs to be made.

"We do what we know; so if we know divorce, we can do it," she said. "But half of today's young people have never lived with an intact marriage." It's going to be hard to institutionalize a happy marriage, she added, when young people "don't have the example."

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