Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. America is a religious nation. Most American adults are currently married and almost all will marry at some time in their lives. About two-thirds of children live with their married biological or adoptive parents U. Census Bureau And marriage and a happy family life are almost universal goals for young adults. This commentary presents a socioeconomic and demographic view of the research literature on the benefits of marriage and religious participation in the United States.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

But marital unions differ in a multitude of ways, including the characteristics, such as education, earnings, religion, and cultural background, of each of the partners, and the homogamy of their match on these characteristics. Similarly, religion has multiple aspects.

These include religious affiliation, a particular set of theological beliefs and practices, and religiosity. Our focus here is on broad comparisons between marriage being married versus not and religiosity having some involvement in religious activities versus not.

We argue that both marriage and religiosity generally have far-reaching, positive effects; that they influence similar domains of life; and that there are important parallels in the pathways through which each achieves these outcomes. Where applicable, we refer to other dimensions of marriage and religion, including the quality of the marital relationship and the type of religious affiliation.

We begin with a comparison of the effects associated with marriage and involvement in religious activities, based on a literature review, followed by a comparison of the major channels through which each operates. We then discuss qualifications and important exceptions to the general conclusion that marriage and religious involvement have beneficial effects. We conclude with a consideration of the intersection between marriage and religion and suggestions for future research.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

Marriage and religion influence various dimensions of life, including physical health and longevity, mental health and happiness, economic well-being, and the raising of children. Recent research has also examined connections to sex and domestic violence. One of the strongest, most consistent benefits of marriage is better physical health and its consequence, longer life.

Married people are less likely than unmarried people to suffer from long-term illness or disability Murphy et al. They have fewer physical problems and a lower risk of death from various causes, especially those with a behavioral component; the health benefits are generally larger for men Ross et al.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

A longitudinal analysis based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a large national sample, documents a ificantly lower mortality rate for married individuals Lillard and Waite For example, simulations based on this research show that, other factors held constant, nine out of ten married women alive at age 48 would still be alive at age 65; by contrast, eight out of ten never-married women would survive to age The corresponding comparison for men reveals a more pronounced difference: nine out of ten for the married group versus only six out of ten for those who were never married Waite and Gallagher Similarly, although there are exceptions and the matter remains controversial Sloan et al.

This research also points to differences by religious affiliation, with members of stricter denominations displaying an advantage Levin Many of the early studies in this literature suffer from methodological shortcomings, including small, unrepresentative samples, lack of adequate statistical controls, and a cross-sectional de that confounds the direction of causality. Yet the conclusion of a generally positive effect of religious involvement on physical health and longevity also emerges from a new generation of studies that have addressed many of these methodological problems Ellison and Levin In one of the most rigorous analyses to date, Hummer et al.

Their show that the gap in life expectancy at age 20 between those who attend religious services more than once a week and those who never attend is more than seven years—comparable to the male—female and white—black differentials in the United States. Additional multivariate analyses of these data reveal a strong association between religious participation and the risk of death, holding constant socioeconomic and demographic variables, as well as initial health status. Other recent longitudinal studies also report a protective effect of religious involvement against disability among the elderly Idler and Kaslas well as a positive influence on self-rated health Musick and longevity Strawbridge et al.

To the extent that marriage and religious involvement are selective of people with unobserved characteristics that are conducive to better health, their causal effects on health and longevity would be smaller than suggested by some of the estimates in this literature. Recent studies based on longitudinal data have found that getting married and staying married to the same person is associated with better mental health outcomes. Horwitz et al.

Marks and Lambert report that marital gain affects men and women in the same way, but marital loss is generally more depressing for women. Analyses Seeking marriage for mutual benefits control for the selection of the psychologically healthy into marriage, and also include a wider range of measures of mental well-being, find that although there are differences by sex in the types of emotional responses to marital transitions, the psychological benefits associated with marriage apply equally to men and women Horwitz et al.

Marriage is also associated with greater overall happiness.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

Analysis of data from the General Social Surveys of —96 shows that, other factors held constant, the likelihood that a respondent would report being happy with life in general is substantially higher among those who are currently married than among those who have never been married or have been ly married; the magnitude of the gap has remained fairly stable over the past 35 years and is similar for men and women Waite The connection between religion and mental health has been the subject of much controversy over the years, and many psychologists and psychiatrists remain skeptical, in part because most of the research has been based on cross-sectional analyses of small samples.

The studies to date are suggestive of an Seeking marriage for mutual benefits between religious involvement and better mental health outcomes, including greater self-esteem, better adaptation to bereavement, a lower incidence of depression and anxiety, a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse, and greater life satisfaction and happiness in general Koenig et al. Recent longitudinal analyses of subgroups of the population provide additional evidence in support of this relationship Zuckerman et al.

A large body of literature documents that married men earn higher wages than their single counterparts. A rigorous and thorough statistical analysis by Korenman and Neumark reports that married white men in America earn 11 percent more than their never-married counterparts, controlling for all the standard human capital variables.

Between 50 and 80 percent of the effect remains, depending on the specification, after correcting for selectivity into marriage based on fixed unobservable characteristics. Other research shows that married people have higher family income than the nonmarried, with the gap between the family income of married and single women being wider than that between married and single men Hahn In addition, married people on average have higher levels of wealth and assets Lupton and Smith To the best of our knowledge, the effects of religious involvement on earnings and wealth have not been systematically analyzed.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

However, as we discuss below, an emerging literature shows a positive effect of religiosity on educational attainment, a key determinant of success in the labor market. These studies suggest a potentially important link between religious involvement during childhood and adolescence and subsequent economic well-being as an adult. Preliminary from a new line of inquiry at the macro level are consistent with this hypothesis. Using a cross-country panel that includes information on religious and economic variables, Barro and McLeary find that enhanced religious beliefs affect economic growth positively, although growth responds negatively to increased church attendance.

Children raised by their own married parents do better, on average, across a range of outcomes than children who grow up in other living arrangements.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

There is evidence that the former are less likely to die as infants Bennett et al. They are less likely to drop out of high school, they complete more years of schooling, they are less likely to be idle as young adults, and they are less likely to have as an unmarried teenager McLanahan and Sandefur Children who grow up in intact two-parent families also tend to have better mental health than their counterparts who have experienced a parental divorce.

Using year longitudinal data from two generations, Amato and Sobolewski find that the weaker parent—child bonds that result from marital discord mediate most of the association between divorce and the subsequent mental health outcomes of children. Cherlin et al. However, the authors also find that the gap continues to widen following the divorce, suggestive of a causal effect of family breakup on mental health. Recent research on differences in parenting styles by religious affiliation reveals that conservative Protestants display distinctive patterns: they place a greater emphasis on obedience and tend to view corporal punishment as an acceptable form of child discipline; at the same time, they are more likely to avoid yelling at children and are more prone to frequent praising and warm displays of affection Bartowski et al.

Such involvement has been linked to a lower probability of substance abuse and juvenile delinquency Donahue and Bensona lower incidence of depression among some groups Harkerdelayed sexual debut Bearman and Brucknermore positive attitudes toward marriage and having children, and more negative attitudes toward unmarried sex and premarital childbearing Marchena and Waite Religious participation has also been associated with better educational outcomes.

Freeman finds a positive effect of churchgoing on school attendance in a sample of inner-city black youth. Regnerus reports that participation in religious activities is related to better test scores and heightened educational expectations among tenth-grade public school students. Other research documents differences in educational attainment by religious affiliation Chiswick, B.

Studies of Seeking marriage for mutual benefits influence of religiosity on schooling have raised the possibility that the estimated coefficients may overstate the positive causal effect of religious involvement on educational outcomes. This would be the case if religiosity is correlated with unobserved factors that encourage good behaviors in general: for example, the religiously more observant parents, who encourage their children to attend services as well, are also supportive of activities that are conducive to success in the secular arena.

Freeman has emphasized this type of bias. Biases operating in the opposite direction have also been identified Lehrer a. Although this issue has not been studied systematically, there is some evidence that religious participation is especially beneficial for those who are more vulnerable, for reasons that might include poor health, unfavorable family circumstances, and adverse economic conditions Hummer et al. To the extent that those who are vulnerable respond by embracing religion as a coping mechanism, the more religious homes would disproportionately have unobserved characteristics that affect educational outcomes adversely.

If so, the estimated coefficients would understate the true effect of religiosity on educational attainment. Little attention has been given to the question of how marriage is related to the chances that people will have active, satisfying sex lives. Cross-tabulations based on data from the National Health and Social Life Survey show that levels of emotional and physical satisfaction with sex are highest for married people and lowest for noncohabiting singles, with cohabitors falling in between Laumann et al.

Additional evidence for the importance of commitment as a determinant of sexual satisfaction is provided by more recent multivariate analyses of these data Waite and Joyner To date, these relationships have not been quantified using longitudinal data. Our knowledge about the relationship between religion and sex is also limited. Cross-tabulations by religious denomination show that those with no affiliation i. Waite and Joyner find that emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure related to sex are higher for frequent attenders of religious services, holding other characteristics of the individual constant.

Using data from the —88 National Surveys of Families and Households, Stets finds a large difference between married people and cohabitors in the prevalence of domestic violence: 14 percent of people who have cohabiting arrangements say that they or their spouse hit, shoved, or threw things at their partner during the past year, compared to 5 percent of those who Seeking marriage for mutual benefits formally married.

The difference declines when age, education, and race are held constant. Additional analyses of these data show that engaged cohabiting couples display lower levels of physical violence than uncommitted cohabitors Waite Ellison et al.

Seeking marriage for mutual benefits

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