There's Something About Marriage
By David Harsanyi
When an actress -- no, an artist -- the caliber of Cameron Diaz weighs in on the future of social institutions, America has an obligation to listen.
And listen we did. In a widely discussed interview with Maxim magazine, Diaz offered America a peek at her body, her relationship with Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez (which, needless to say, is "awesome") and her views on the future of matrimony. Does she think marriage is a dying institution? "I do," she explained. "I think we have to make our own rules. I don't think we should live our lives in relationships based off of old traditions that don't suit our world any longer."
Let's for a moment pretend that we share a world with Cameron Diaz. Does marriage suit this domain? It should be noted that this ancient ritual is at the center of an emotional national debate. There is one side claiming that exclusion from it is discrimination and another claiming that the very sanctity of the institution is at stake. I'd say lots of folks are expending a ton of energy and angst arguing over a ritual that's on its last legs.
We all know why men marry. Love, yes. I've been married to a wonderful woman for, like, 10 -- or maybe it's 11 or 12 (somewhere in that area) -- years. But men are irresponsible and forgetful. The evolutionary need for companionship is a need to moderate childishness and bring a basic moral order to lives that would otherwise revolve around sports highlight shows. Women? Love, of course. But historically, as Diaz implies, it's also been somewhat of a necessity.
Things are changing. A new Pew study says that Americans are postponing marriage and that fewer of us are getting hitched. But those who do marry stay together longer. "Three in four couples who married after 1990 celebrated a 10-year anniversary," according to a Washington Post story on census statistics. "That was a rise of three percentage points compared with couples who married in the early 1980s, when the nation's divorce rate was at its highest." Researchers are also finding a connection between marriage and education. In 1996, only 21 percent of brides had a college degree, but by 2009, it was 31 percent. It seems to be growing.
Women with higher education levels are increasingly marrying. These are also presumably women who are likelier to have the economic freedom not to be married. So why do they do it?
I found studies and stories claiming that married Americans are healthier -- less likely to get pneumonia or develop cancer or have heart attacks or dementia -- than non-married Americans. According to other studies, married people live more content lives and are less likely to commit suicide (granted, a pretty low bar of happiness, but still) or worry. Married couples are financially better off, and their children are usually more successful.
Why are couples staying together? Like Diaz, we can hypothesize. Perhaps the rise of connective technology has created marriages based more on compatibility than immediacy or luck. Perhaps we have readjusted to our life expectancy and marry later and thus more smartly. Whatever the reasons, marriage can bring a healthier life.
This is not a moral observation of a traditionalist, but indisputable. There is innate need pulling us to marriage. It's been around from prehistory, and it has taken many forms -- polygamy, polyandry and my historical favorite, polyfidelity -- but it's never been close to passing on. Today we've settled on monogamy, and it has brought great stability and structure to society. It's probably busy readjusting rather than dying.
I'd prove this firsthand to doubters, but alas, Cameron, I am spoken for.