The vernal equinox may have inspired Shakespeare to declare “the spring time, the only pretty ring time.” Fittingly, it was chosen as the date for National Proposal Day—a holiday initiated to nudge young men to pop the question to their special someones.
And that’s a noble intention given the emergence of a cultural trend in which young adults shy away from making that commitment. The hesitation to commit to a relationship has resulted in a plummeting marriage rate, which is at an all-time low, and soaring rate of cohabitation, which has increased tenfold since 1960.
As decades of research has found, marriage matters—to the financial prospects and physical and emotional well-being of both men and women. Moreover, the collapse of this foundational institution has an impact that reverberates throughout society, including a greater dependence on government.
Perhaps the greatest toll of the failure of couples to tie the knot is taken on the next generation. Marriage reduces the risk of childhood poverty by 82 percent. Without the benefits of intact families, children tend to fare worse on a wide range of economic measures as well as a host of other factors related to their well-being. In their teens, they are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as becoming sexually active, engaging in substance abuse, and exhibiting anti-social behavior. They tend to fare worse on emotional and psychological outcomes and have lower levels of academic achievement and educational attainment. Against those odds, finding solid footing for marrying and starting their own families on a stable foundation is more challenging.
Given the importance of marriage to individuals and society, sociologists such as Brad Wilcox at the National Marriage Project have promoted initiatives to strengthen marriages and boost relational quality. These efforts range from campaigns for couples to spend quality time together to documenting the relationship between marital satisfaction and small acts of kindness and displays of respect and affection between a husband and wife.
In addition, this vital institution that has long been a pillar of our civil society should be strengthened through initiatives in both the cultural and policy arenas to promote marriage and intact, healthy families.