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Marriage And Family, Not Money And Career, Are The Key To A Fulfilling Life

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Image CreditTori Behr / Flickr / CC by 2.0, cropped

Adults who are married with children report that their lives are more meaningful, compared with childless men and women, who say their lives are sad.


The late James Q. Wilson, professor of government at Harvard University, wrote in his book, The Marriage Problem, back in 2002, “It is not money, but the family that is the foundation of public life. As it has become weaker, every structure built upon that foundation has become weaker.”

Over the past 50-plus years, we have heard a constant stream of rhetoric from secular elites that “you can have it all” — career, money, marriage, and family. The result has been sadly the opposite. You cannot “have it all,” and two of these eventually trump the other two in taking up our time and energy. Increasingly, for many Americans, it has been money and career, and our society, and we as individuals, are suffering the consequences.

While lower-income Americans have experienced the greatest breakdown in marriage, even those who are well-off and college-educated are getting married at later ages. The average age of those entering marriage now is 30 for men and 28 for women. And those who marry are having fewer children or no children because of career considerations that push back the age of childbearing.

The bottom line is that even if people are getting married, they are not having children or as many children. Meanwhile, the number of never-marrieds continues to rise.

The growing trend of people never getting married is resulting in greater societal isolation and unhappiness. Twelve years ago, the Pew Research Center reported that one in five adults 25 and older had never been married. In comparison, back in 1960, that figure was only one in nine adults over the age of 25. The same report found that 50 percent of American society felt it was fine for people not to prioritize getting married and having children.

In fact, the overall marriage rate dropped by 60 percent during that period. Over the past 20-plus years, the number of marriages has decreased from 2,315,000 in 2000 to 1,985,072 in 2021, even though the total U.S. population has increased by 50 million in the same time.

The decreasing marriage rate has led to a spike in the percentage of people living alone. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2020 that 27.6 percent of all U.S. occupied households consisted of only one person. In 1950, that percentage was just 9.3 percent. Nearly 46.4 percent of all adults are now reported to be single.

Marriage Correlates with Happiness

In his new book, Get Married, Brad Wilcox, senior fellow at the Institute of Family Studies, writes about how this decrease in marriage is taking a toll on American’s mental well-being.

He comments, “Marital quality is, far and away, the top predictor I have run across of life satisfaction in America. Specifically, the odds that men and women say they are ‘very happy’ with their lives are a staggering 545 percent higher for those who are very happily married, compared with peers who are not married or who are less than very happy in their marriages.”

Wilcox says childless Americans are more likely to report they live lonely lives, and their lives are less likely to be meaningful and happy. In addition, 60 percent of men and women who do not have children say they are lonely, some or most of the time, compared with 45 percent of married parents with children.

Finally, those adults who are married with children report that their lives are more meaningful, compared with childless men and women who say their lives are sad.

Seeking Fulfillment in Career

Despite these startling statistics, as noted earlier, more than half of Americans and particularly young Americans have bought into the lie that having a career is more fulfilling than getting married and having children. This has resulted in much of our national discontent.

Young Americans have been told they should focus on their career, accumulate wealth, and have as many “experiences” as possible, such as travel, before they even think of marriage and having children. Instead of asking if they can be good husbands and wives, and good parents, these young adults ask themselves, “How much money will I make?,” “How fast can I climb the corporate ladder?,” and “How can I find self-fulfillment?”

Now particularly women spend the bulk of their childbearing years focusing on temporal things that do not bring long-term fulfillment. Men often stay in a state of arrested adolescence, with more money to buy new toys for themselves, but with nothing else in their lives that allows them to settle down and invest in something more than themselves.

In many cases, as they enter their 40s, they increasingly learn the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 1:2 are sadly true: “Everything is meaningless.” Or, as former President Ronald Reagan reminded us in 1986, “Some have suggested that in today’s world, the family has somehow become less important. Well, I can’t help thinking just the opposite: that when so much around is whispering the little lie that we should live only for the moment and for ourselves, it’s more important than ever to affirm an older and more lasting set of values … the family remains the fundamental unit of American life.”

If our nation is to return putting selflessness over selfishness and long-term happiness over short-term “experiences,” it would be prudent to remind ourselves of the words from these two wise men and realize that marriage and family — and not money and career — are true keys to a fulfilling life.

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