UVA professor’s simple hack for a better life: ‘Get Married’

News & Politics

When I watch Pearl Davis speak, my imagination wanders. Did Andrea Dworkin asexually spawn a severely mentally deficient homunculus who inherited all her mother’s unilateral hatred for one sex in particular but not the memory of which one or the capacity for circumspection to understand why? Or perhaps … maybe … her whole schtick is elaborate performance art based on “Right Wing Women.” Genius.

Apparently, marriage needs defending not only from the left but also from whatever is calling itself “right” these days. With this unique political context in mind, I brought Professor Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia onto “Girlboss, Interrupted” this week to talk about his new book: “Get Married: Why Americans Should Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization” (Broadside Books, 2024).

Brad Wilcox is the director of the National Marriage Project, the Future of Freedom Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Brad studies marriage, fatherhood, and the impact of strong and stable families on men, women, and children. Today, he offers his thoughts on the demise of America’s greatest institution — and what it will take to build from the ashes.

ALIGN: Why did you write this book? What do you hope that your work will do to add to or change the conversation around marriage in America?

BRAD WILCOX: I got into the business of studying marriage because I was concerned about kids, asking and answering questions like “how do they fare in bad marriages or single-parent homes as opposed to a more traditional arrangement?”

But more recently, through my work at the University of Virginia, I keep encountering young adults who are deeply discouraged about their prospects for marriage, if not totally uninterested. Their stance vis-à-vis marriage is often shaped by voices on the left and now right (nominally, at least, including Andrew Tate and Pearl Davis) who talk down marriage. Certain factions of the left tell us that marriage is a path to misery and immiseration for women. Certain factions of the right imply the same for men.

So I wrote the book in order to counter misinformation about marriage and family from all sides by simply putting forward the facts, statistically speaking, about its benefits. From this statistical, sociological perspective, we know that for most Americans, marriage is a path toward prosperity and happiness.

ALIGN: Why has our most important institution, marriage, as you argue, been so thoroughly devalued? Cui bono?

WILCOX: It’s a perplexing question.

Elites — who produce the culture of skepticism about marriage as journalists, professors, school superintendents, and Hollywood moguls — actually really enjoy it in their own lives. Most college-educated Americans (18-55) are married, whereas only a minority of less-educated Americans are married. This sort of gap was basically nonexistent just a few decades ago.

So while in public, they may deny or devalue or discount the importance of marriage because they wish to be seen as progressive, they are not actually bearing the consequences of their own trendsetting. By practicing the precise opposite of what they preach, elites only reinforce their own privilege and that of their kids, leaving those in lower-class worlds, who nonetheless aspire to elite status, less likely to enjoy the benefits of stable marriage.

The children of disorganized, non-marital arrangements are far less likely to find themselves in positions to compete with the children of elites in school, work, and life. It becomes a cycle. The cynicism is difficult to unsee.

ALIGN: You write about “the closing of the American heart,” in other words, men’s and women’s growing cynicism toward one another, and now, political polarization away from one another. What is causing this? What can be done to solve it?

WILCOX: Today, dating and marriage languish for three reasons, primarily: 1) More men are floundering in school, work, and life — specifically in ways that make them less appealing as boyfriends and potential husbands. 2) Our society is more secular, and substantial numbers of young adults have abandoned the faith of their forebears. 3) We now prioritize the “Midas mindset” — school, money, and especially work — over love and marriage.

Each requires different solutions. 1) Boost the fortunes of boys in schools, limit their exposure to gaming and pornography, and promote a new prosocial masculinity. 2) Do a better job of transmitting faith between generations. 3) Paint a better and more appealing portrait of marriage and family to young adults in schools, youth groups, colleges, and social media.

ALIGN: The culture’s negative attitude toward marriage seems to come hand in hand with a tacit resentment of small children. Why, especially in a culture that regards itself with adulation in terms of civil rights, do we dehumanize kids? Can you address the popular notion that having kids ruins one’s life?

WILCOX: We’ve become consumed with what I call the “Midas mindset” — the idea that everything we touch should turn to gold, a focus on career and wealth. Having children forces you to focus on something besides your own life and your own career.

Therefore, much of the culture is telling our young adults that the sacrifices associated with parenthood are “not worth it.” Of course, it is also true that the costs of raising children, especially housing, health care, and education, seem more insurmountable to today’s young adults.

What too many people don’t realize is that yes, parenting is difficult, but most parents derive tremendous meaning, purpose, and happiness from their families. We have to do a better job of conveying the value of parenthood (beyond the dollars and cents) in the culture, but also consider policies (like an expanded child tax credit) that make it easier to afford children.

ALIGN: According to the sociological data you gathered, who are the happiest people in America and why?

WILCOX: Even I was surprised by some of the data we turned up for the book, and I’ve been looking at these figures for a long time. By far, the happiest people in America today are men and women who are married with children. Those who report being in good marriages experience the biggest happiness boost: a seemingly impossible 545% boost, which is more significant than the happiness won from a job, or money, or frequent sex.

In addition, religious conservatives trump every other demographic in happiness. The irony, of course, is that these are the very people whom many in the elite culture portray as miserable or uptight. Regardless of detractors, it seems that living in a community of people with shared values and who support you in your aspirations for a good marriage and family life seems to do the trick for many.

It’s not rocket science, and there are always anecdotal exceptions, which cannot be accounted for in a general statistical picture, but on the whole, the facts remain: No Americans are more likely to be succeeding at that classic American pursuit of happiness than conservative, religious, married mothers and fathers.

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