Note: This article describes one of the seven Economic Wisdom Project talks on theology and economics, designed to be used as class assignments.
In the “Ball and Chain Myth,” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and associate professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, provided look at popular attitudes about sacrifice, pleasure and responsibility that are challenging marriage in our culture.
Wilcox lays out the typical social and cultural priorities that create barriers to marriage through the example of “Six-Pack Craig,” a correspondent of Wilcox’s who expressed an attitude typical of many young men: marriage is an impediment to a happy and flourishing life because it requires giving up leisure and pleasure in favor of work and responsibility.
Wilcox focuses on men because that is where the greatest cultural barriers currently lie. However, the talk also affirms the value of marriage to women as equally important.
In contrast to Six Pack Craig’s limited vision, Wilcox lays out how marriage benefits men economically, sexually and in their health. Overall, married men are better off financially, happier with their sex lives and healthier than their single counterparts. Drawing on extensive data, Wilcox demonstrates there is a return on investment on the sacrifices that marriage requires.
Marriage isn’t necessarily easy – it requires commitment, service, sacrifice and hard work – but it is worth it. Healthy marriages lead to flourishing, for both men and women, for both the individual family and the larger community. Indeed, the return on investment of marriage isn’t just for individuals, but leads to the flourishing of the community-at-large.
Below is a brief outline of the talk, with a few sample excerpts. We hope you will find this a useful tool to provide your students with an understanding of the cultural forces challenging the relationship between marriage and flourishing, and how these can be addressed.
Supposedly Marriage Isn’t Worth It
SAMPLE: Six-Pack Craig’s “bill of particulars with marriage is long. As you can tell, a bit extreme. But I think he does a good job of articulating a view of marriage that is more and more common among young men. The view, of course, is that marriage is a ball and chain, of little value to the average guy, especially the kind of guy that lives in the moment, and according to the principal.”
SAMPLE: “If you think about it, every good thing in life requires sacrifice…Raise your hand if you’ve ever played a varsity sport, raised three kids, climbed a fourteener in Colorado, or written a book. You know that all good things in life require sacrifice. Craig really is no different in this regard, he’s willing to sacrifice for some things. In his case, a good body and a sexual variety that it affords him. So the point, then, of course is this: our greatest accomplishments in life usually depend upon sacrifice. Marriage is no different.”
SAMPLE: “After getting married, men work harder, they work smarter and the work more successfully. We know that married men work about 400 hours more per year than their single peers. We know that married men are less likely to be fired than their single peers. Because of all this we not that married men make about $16,000 more per year than their single peers from roughly similar backgrounds. This is what scholars call ‘men’s marriage premium.’”
SAMPLE: “When you turn and focus on the quality of sex, the story is different. Turns out that married sex trumps unmarried sex when it comes to the quality of sex. So the Chicago sex survey tells us that 51% of married men said they are extremely satisfied with the emotional quality of their sex compared to 39% of cohabiting guys and 36% of single guys. That same survey tells us that a majority of married guys said that they are extremely satisfied with the physical quality of sex compared to a minority of unmarried guys.”
SAMPLE: “Generally speaking married guys are in better health then their single peers…We know, for instance, that married guys live about 10 years longer than their single peers. A recent study from Harvard found that among guys that are diagnosed with cancer, was that married guys lived significantly longer in the wake of that diagnosis.”
Return on Investment
SAMPLE: “So we’ve seen today that for the average guy, marriage offers a significant ROI, return on investment, when it comes to money, sex and health. This is all a little piece of one major research study on men, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which found out about what makes men healthy and happy over the course of their lives. This study was tracking men from early adulthood into their 70s and 80s. The director of that study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, summed up his results in this way: ‘[O]ver and over in these 75 years, our study has shown that the people fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends, and with community.’”