By Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Arizona Star on August 24, 1999. It was written in response to a piece by Hertiage Foundation intern Stacey Felzenberg which appeared in the same paper on August 18, 1999.
Our fulfilling lives were interrupted by a shrill warning from Heritage Foundation intern Stacey Felzenberg.
In her August 18th column about marriage, she says we’re making a big mistake.
Because we’ve chosen not to get married, she predicts we’re going to be poor, sickly, and unhappy.
Way back when she was a college freshman, Miss Felzenberg says that like us, she didn’t want to get married. But now – two? three? years later – with a superficial review of the research under her belt and a superior smirk on her face, Felzenberg can’t wait for her day at the altar.
She points to research that says that married people are healthier than unmarried ones, and that those who’ve tied the knot make more money than those who don’t.
It’s clear Felzenberg needs to put in some more hours in the library. The truth is, the research about marital status paints a more complex story than the one Felzenberg has sketched.
She seems to have missed the article by Catherine Ross of Ohio State University, who studied 2,031 adults and found that it is living with a partner – not necessarily being married to that partner – that results in higher levels of well-being. In fact, she found that unmarried couples report higher levels of emotional support than married couples.
Maybe she was absent the day the professor talked about the similar Dutch study that looked at 18,000 adults and found that living with another person is just as good for your health as marriage is.
Perhaps the Heritage Foundation doesn’t subscribe to the American Sociological Review. If it did, Felzenberg might have read about how married men contribute less time to housework than unmarried men who live with their partners. Or perhaps Felzenberg simply enjoys doing housework.
She even concludes that not getting married could kill her faster than smoking. Excuse us? Last we heard, the Centers for Disease Control said smoking causes more than 419,900 deaths each year in the United States, making it the leading preventable cause of death. We haven’t read a single obituary that lists “unmarried” as the cause of death. If Felzenberg wants to live to a healthy old age, kicking her tobacco habit will provide much better insurance than slipping on a wedding band.
Felzenberg even seems to be oblivious to her own privilege in asking the question, “Should I get married?” It is downright arrogant to wave the marriage banner at a time when millions of Americans are not legally allowed to marry their partners. Same-sex marriage is not legal in any state in the country.
Felzenberg presents a one-size-fits-all prescription for relationship and family life. The fact is, one size does not fit all. Some people love living alone, while others thrive in big families. Some are gifted bedtime story readers and boo-boo kissers, while others adore the freedom of childfree living. Some women can’t wait to become Mrs. Somebody, while others cringe at the thought.
Trying to push everyone into the marriage box is an old tactic. Patriarchy was one very effective way to do it: women didn’t have much choice about getting married when they couldn’t work to support themselves. Some religions added their voice to the cause by labeling unmarried relationships sinful. More recently, flawed social science research has been put to the same use in an attempt to convince people that marriage is scientifically advisable.
Felzenberg undoubtedly wants to help people to lead better lives. However, she needs a strategy more sophisticated than trying to convince everyone to get married. Instead,she might try working toward creating a society that supports and validates the diverse kinds of relationships and families that exist today. Until then, she’d better head back to the books.
Our other work critiquing the marriage-only movement includes an article about the National Marriage Project which appeared in Sojourner: The Women’s Forum; “Ten Problems With The National Marriage Project’s Cohabitation Report; and a press release issued in response to the National Marriage Project’s cohabitation report.