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Marriage advice: Tying the knot frees a guy to become a man

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 12:01 am

Our movies and TV shows often assume that men don't need to commit to marriage.

Men like sowing their wild oats and have no real reason to settle down. Thus, the “single life” is glorified and married men are pictured as “tied down” or “trapped.”

This attitude isn't new. When my parents lived in Midland, Mich., in 1937, the married couples group was known as “The Ball and Chain Club,” comparing marriage to the prison chain-gangs of the era.

But, is this true? Absolutely, … sort of!

Researcher S. Alexandra Burt studied 289 pairs of male twins. The men were followed for 12 years, starting at age 17. Burt wanted to determine whether marriage affected the antisocial behavior often associated with single, young men.

She used twins because they acted as a “built-in, natural control” for genetic influence.

Burt found when one twin married, his antisocial behaviors dropped by 30 percent compared to his unmarried twin. The reduction happened for both men who started with low levels of antisocial behavior and those who started with high levels.

This finding confirms what other social scientists have consistently reported for years. George Akerlof, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics (2001), noted in 1998 that “men settle down when they get married; if they fail to get married, they fail to settle down.”

Experts Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, authors of the book “The Case for Marriage,” add that single men drink twice as much alcohol as married men of the same age. Irrespective of whether as bachelors they were “light drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers, all imbibe less after they marry.”

It's not just alcohol. Single men are also “more likely to smoke, drink and drive, drive too fast, get into fights” and generally take risks that “increase the chances of accidents and injuries.” As men approach marriage, they also use less cocaine and marijuana than their unmarried friends. (The same, by the way, is true for women approaching marriage.)

Marriage changes other aspects of men's lives. Waite and Gallagher explain that wives “cook low-fat or low-cholesterol meals, add more fruits and vegetables, and encourage regular sleeping habits.”

Married men do well with these limits on their freedom. Waite reports studies done over the last 40 years consistently find twice as many married men report being happy as their single, divorced or widowed counterparts. They also live significantly longer, have more fulfilling sex lives and enjoy more wealth than single men.

But is it marriage that matters? There is no evidence that cohabitation or being an out of wedlock father brings any of the benefits of marriage. As Waite and others have found, it's the role of husband — not father, boyfriend, or cohabiting roommate — that makes the difference.

Whether individual men choose to marry is their decision. But society needs to encourage both young men and women to move toward a healthy marriage by helping them understand the benefits.

Glorifying the single life and all its “freedom” also encourages behaviors that lead to increased deaths on the road, increased use of illegal drugs and lifestyles that eventually lead to health problems. These, in turn, lead to increases in governmental expenditures and health costs shared by everyone.

For all the talk about the joys of the single life, when men enter a healthy marriage they thrive. Researcher Steven L. Nock adds that, by getting married and successfully doing the work of husbands, men fulfill the roles that are “core aspects of their masculinity.”

It's in marriage that men are truly able to be free to be men.

2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan's website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.