There's been a debate raging in the social sciences for nearly 40 years: Who benefits more from marriage, men or women?
The original answer: Men benefit while women get shortchanged. In 2002, researcher David Popenoe described this thinking as a persistent myth. Sadly, the myth remains widely accepted as “truth.”
An Internet search reveals this question is still hotly debated, with most sites still concluding marriage benefits men far more than women.
The question itself, however, is silly. Men and women are different and the benefits each receives from marriage are different. Trying to force a comparison is like comparing apples in a plastic bag with oranges in a paper sack. It's a meaningless effort.
The question is not “who” benefits more, but do women benefit enough to make marriage a wise decision? There is substantial evidence men derive enormous benefits from marriage. However, there's just as much evidence women also benefit enormously.
Let us consider a few of these benefits:
•Married women live longer than women who are divorced or never married. Researcher Linda Waite reports a 48-year-old married woman has a 50 percent greater chance of living to age 65 than her single or divorced female friends.
Women even receive a major residual benefit, if their husband dies. Widows live much longer than divorced or never-married women.
•Married women are physically safer. Waite notes single and divorced women are four to five times more likely to be victims of crimes of violence; 10 times more likely to be raped; and three times more likely to be victims of aggravated assault than wives. Women are also three to four times more likely to suffer domestic violence when they're cohabitating than when they're married.
•Married women enjoy better emotional health. This has been established by a long list of studies.
For example, Rutgers University researchers followed 1,400 young men and women for seven years to track their mental health. The result: Getting married and staying married improved the mental health for both men and women. No matter what the state of their emotional health was prior to marriage, they did better by getting married and staying married.
This is consistent with annual studies done since 1972, which consistently show married women reporting themselves as “very happy” nearly 60 percent more often than single and divorced women.
•The big advantage of marriage for women, however, seems to be financial. Both men and women benefit financially from marriage, but Waite explains that “women gain even more financially from marriage than men.”
Married women have access, through their husband's income, to significantly higher total household income and higher total household wealth. The median household wealth for singles is $35,000; for married couples it's $132,000.
The financial advantage of marriage is especially important for women with children. Roughly 33 percent of single women with infant children live in poverty, compared to only 10 percent of married women with infants.
This financial advantage also gives married women access to better food, housing, clothing and health insurance, along with better retirement packages. These, in turn, help with health issues for both women and their children.
•Finally, there is a sexual advantage. Married women report significantly greater emotional satisfaction from their sex lives than single women or women in cohabitating relationships.
As Waite explains, “if you are keeping a gender scorecard, you'd have to call contemporary marriage a pretty good deal for both sexes.” They benefit differently, but they're both better off.
So if you're ever asked the ridiculous question: Do men or women benefit greatly from marriage? The answer is simple: Yes.