By Andrea Mrozek
and Peter Jon Mitchell
Canadian supporters of marriage are speaking up – and not a moment too soon.
In a recent Angus Reid Institute survey, about 56 per cent of Canadians said, “marriage is simply not necessary” to form a lifelong relationship. Almost the same proportion (57 per cent) went on to say that when an unmarried couple has children, it’s not important that the couple get married.
The response to this came from many corners, none of which were predictably socially conservative or religious. Robert Fulford wrote in the National Post on May 11 that “[a] marriage creates a kind of mini-state, a midget republic with its own rules, its own secrets and its own history. Children, as citizens of the mini-state, learn from it their first notions about hierarchy, finance, responsibility and ambition.”
Peter Shawn Taylor wrote in Maclean’s that marriage makes you happier and richer, citing many sources to support his argument.
Finally, Brian Lee Crowley and Sean Speer also preached the virtues and importance of marriage, writing in the Toronto Sun on May 10, “The evidence shows that family structure is a key determinant of one’s economic and social success. In fact, it’s among the most important.”
Given the expert testimony and the availability of scholarship on the matter, what the survey results show is that a majority of Canadians hold views about marriage that are at odds with the research.
Research overwhelmingly points to significant benefits of marriage. Marriage is an important wealth aggregator; it overwhelmingly helps improve the lives of lower income people. Research published by think-tank Cardus shows happily married couples fare better on a host of health outcomes, like heart health and combatting cancer. These are but a few of the research outcomes that are largely uncontested across the political spectrum in the United States.
In Canada, the marriage research environment is less robust. Nonetheless, we know much about the benefits of marriage even from Canadian scholars. For example, we learn that children from married parent homes perceive that they can do better at school, as compared with kids from stable cohabiting homes. We also learn about the improved finances of married couples, not only from our own research but also from university scholars, whose research shows married couples are more likely to share financial resources in contrast with cohabiters.
A Canadian study based on longitudinal data found that the portion of children born to married parents who experience a parent’s separation by age 10 were about three times lower compared to kids born to cohabiting parents who subsequently did not marry. The lack of stability hurts children.
There are many reasons for the waning interest in marriage. The personal experience of broken homes might be one. Our divorce rates speak to the fact that not all marriages thrive and survive. Another is that we hesitate to speak to what we think are moral decisions, and private ones at that. In spite of the fact that marriage is still the most stable relationship choice, we hesitate to encourage it for fear of telling people what to do.
Certainly, marriage is not for everyone, but a society that is ambivalent about marriage loses multiple benefits. Marriage binds sex, intimacy, parenthood and economic collaboration into a permanent relationship. It marks an entry into adulthood.
Young adults are less likely than previous generations to follow the sequence of graduation, marriage and then kids. Surveys say it’s more difficult starting out these days, and with declining marriage, it means more young people are doing this difficult task alone.
For decades, Canadians have heard that health, wealth and stability had little to do with marriage. Canada’s rising family breakdown and the prevalence of lone parent poverty point to the need for a healthy marriage culture.
It might be easy to dismiss those advocating for marriage as moralistic religious types, but evidence shows marriage contributes to the welfare of society.
One positive from the bleak survey results is that they are bringing marriage supporters out of the woodwork. We welcome this conversation and encourage a research-informed dialogue about the importance of marriage in a healthy society.
Andrea Mrozek is family program director and Peter Jon Mitchell is senior writer at the think-tank Cardus.
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