Friday, November 28, 2003


Way back in 1972, feminist scholar Jessie Bernard argued that marriage is bad for women (but she thought it was a pretty good deal for men) in her hugely influential book The Future of Marriage. The idea took hold, eventually finding its way into college textbooks and our popular culture. Despite the fact that most of what she wrote has since been discredited, Volokh Conspiracy contributor Jacob Levy recently cited this marriage myth as fact in his post about the constitutionality of a ban on nonprocreative marriage:

as I understand the social science on this topic, marriage is an almost unmitigated good for men in terms of things like life expectancy and reported satisfaction with life but is mixed at best for women, with married women's life expectancy actually falling below that of single women-- even, as I recall, controlling for death during childbirth.

Matthew Yglesias also picks up on this point and runs with it: "if you're a woman, getting married increases your chances of being murdered pretty significantly."

To the contrary, a recent Department of Justice report notes "[d]uring 2002 persons who had never married were victims of violent crime overall, rape/sexual assault, total assault, and simple assault at rates higher than those for married, widowed, or divorced/separated persons. Persons who had never married and those who were divorced/separated were victims of robbery and of aggravated assault at similar rates."

Lesson: It's not a good idea to rely on your memory or, god forbid, popular culture.

There's more. Three years ago, self-described "liberal democrat" and coauthor of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (Doubleday, 2000) refuted this myth citing among other sources, a 1990 study which showed that unmarried women have a 50 percent higher mortality rate than married women. (I guess Levy, who blogs from the University of Chicago, doesn't read his own employer's magazine).

Furthermore, The Case for Marriage showed that married women have better mental health than singles. The same results were found in a 1997 Australian study of more than 10,000 people for the Australian Institute of Family Studies, by sociologist David De Vaus.

Bell bottoms and blue eyeshadow may be back in fashion, but discredited truisms do not, and should not, experience similar revivals.


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