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Is Marriage Necessary?

By paulabernstein |

It seems about once a year some writer makes a case against marriage. Most of these stories talk about the odds of a marriage failing (about 50%) and how monogamy is an unrealistic ideal.

Now, right on schedule, bloggers Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison write “I Don’t. The Case Against Marriage” in Newsweek. But these two self-proclaimed “educated, young, urban professionals” aren’t anti-marriage exactly. They just don’t see the point. They write:

Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway—no longer necessary.

The authors do a compelling job of presenting their argument for why marriage is outdated:

- Americans are co-habitating in record numbers. The number of unmarried-but-cohabiting partners has risen 1,000 percent over the last 40 years.

- Having  children outside of wedlock is no longer stigmatized. In 2008, 41 percent of births were to unmarried mothers, more than ever before.

- There is no longer a financial incentive to marriage. Women are the bread-winners (or co-breadwinners) in two thirds of American households.

- A fifth of young Americans identify as secular, so the religious ceremony is no longer as significant.

- Where people once got married to have sex, pre-marital sex is now generally accepted.

- In most cases, you don’t even get a tax break for being married. President Obama’s new health plan will allow low-earning single people get better subsidies to buy insurance than married couples.

According to statistics, the romantic ideal of finding one person to fulfill all of your needs is not realistic. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world and as many as 60 percent of men and half of women will have extra-marital sex. “Measurements of brain activity have shown that 20 years into marriage, 90 percent of couples have lost the passion they originally felt,” write the authors.

Having just celebrated my 10th anniversary, my husband and I have  so far managed to keep our romance alive. Call me an old-fashioned romantic, but I’m not yet ready to declare marriage dead. The authors’ arguments are persuasive, but I still proclaim “I Do” to marriage.

What do you think? Is marriage outdated?


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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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19 thoughts on “Is Marriage Necessary?

  1. Lydia says:

    Perhaps they should take to the thousands and thousands of gay Americans fighting for their right to marry and they will understand what is so special about marriage. Just a thought.

  2. anon says:

    Ha! Good point, Lydia. Besides that, I think the things discussed here actually highlight much of what is “wrong” with society today. I think it is foolhardy for a woman to have a child out of wedlock. Accidents and bad luck, fine, I feel sorry for them, but those who CHOOSE to do this are basically full of hubris or stupid to think that you can handily raise a child yourself. For all those who cry that you NEED two incomes, which is why they simply MUST put their babies into daycare, they cannot also say its OK for someone to decide to go forward and have a child on their own. Being married doesn’t mean you expect one person to fulfill ALL your needs. One has to figure that out for themselves, ultimately. I DO, however, very much respect the institution of marriage and the legal backing of an official marriage, particularly when children are involved.

  3. paulabernstein says:

    Having a child out of wedlock doesn’t necessarily mean raising a child by yourself. It just means that you’re not married. You might still have a partner/co-parent.

    I support gay Americans struggle for equal rights — including the right to marry if they want.

  4. anon says:

    I understand that…but I still think it is inferior. Why not get married? All these “news” stories about the end of men, young girls being sexy, lesbians being better parents, nannies raising people’s children…makes me realize, I think I am a conservative! Because if these stories are any indication of the state of society, we are in serious trouble.

  5. paulabernstein says:

    Liberals aren’t promoting young girls being sexy! At least this liberal isn’t.

  6. anon says:

    yes, but conservatives certainly are not either and it is byproduct of our screwed up society (moms not vigilant enough, dads not NECESSARY, or so they say, or present, the virtues of the single mom being tooted all the time…) I’m so not a teabagger and I don’t like Sarah Palin or anything, but I do think there’s something way wrong in the direction we’re headed.

  7. jenny tries too hard says:

    Meh. I think civil marriage is VERY important, for gay people, straight people, polygamists, whatever, because there should be a legal framework for inheritance and the division of property/debt when the couple (or triad or whatever) splits up. And then there’s also the issue of taxes, medical decisions, and shared parenting. It’s just easier if it’s on paper. I really believe that the institution known as civil marriage ought to be replaced with a new word like civil union, and any couple (or more) of consenting adults ought to be strongly encouraged to enter into one before living together, and especially before buying major property like a home or having a child. Fine, leave the religious aspect out of the picture, just get people legally tied to each other and their kids, for simplicity’s sake.

  8. paulabernstein says:

    I’m with you, Jenny. I think a legal document makes things much easier when it comes to taxes, medical stuff, etc. I think the authors understate the importance of those legal issues.

  9. Jeannie says:

    For my two cents, my partner and I have two kids, a mortgage and a car … and are not married. We don’t see the need. What we have is no different to marriage … and I know this, I’ve been married. Do you think we really need a piece of paper to authorize our relationship? To provide a loving and stable home for our children? Marriage is no longer necessary.

  10. anon says:

    if his ass decides to split, it would be much easier if you had that paper…not that I am saying you live for thinking the worst, but, why not just get married? I, too, support gay marriage…geesh, these people are trying to do the RIGHT thing!

  11. jenny tries too hard says:

    No, Jeannie, I don’t think you need a paper to authorize your relationship or provide a good home for your kids. But, it does protect you and your kids in the event of a break up or (God forbid) the death of your spouse. I deal with widows/widowers and people who were just living together when their partner passed away or became critically ill, and it is heartbreaking how much harder it is for people who don’t have that piece of paper. Legally, a parent or grown child or even a sibling has more right to make decisions regarding life support, organ donation, burial, etc. than a partner who isn’t somehow legally connected. It’s sad but true, and even that is done in the interest of protecting the rights of the ill or deceased. There’s also Social Security, if that’s not completely busted by the time you or your partner need it. I don’t think a wedding is really important to the non-religious, or anything, but making it official really does make a huge difference.

  12. leahsmom says:

    On the romance issue – I’m not sure they’re saying romance is dead. I feel very romantic with and about my spouse – after 6 years and counting. But I also do not expect my spouse to be my whole world – I have other friends who share interests that my spouse and I do not. I think this is the idea the authors were attacking. I’d prefer there be no legal recognition of marriage for anyone – to obviate the issue with the state preferring hetero-marriages – and that people be free to engage in whatever protections they wish in terms of finances, children, etc.

  13. Jake says:

    I must say, there is something great about being a husband. And it doesn’t feel like just a social construct. There’s a responsibility to it, and having made promises in front of everyone and signed a piece of paper helps me to pursue that responsibility on the days when I would really, really rather do anything else.

  14. Triplemom says:

    The french got it right, the have the “PAC” which is essentially a contract between any two people to mesh their finances, rear children together and gives them decision making rights if needed.

  15. LindaLou says:

    Have kids/Don’t have kids. Marry/Don’t marry. Eh. These topics bore me. I so completely don’t care how other people choose to lead their lives.

  16. Tanya says:

    Declaring marriage “dead” is just self-serving bs for people who are defensive about their particular marital state. I don’t care if you want to cohabitate and raise kids without getting married (and who cares what I think about it anyway, it’s your life), but don’t go making sweeping generalizations about the rest of us. If you don’t care for the institution, leave it for the people who DO care.

  17. JEssica says:

    Marriage is for children. Until children become passe, marriage will be necessary.

  18. No, no, no! says:

    Marriage is not for children; it’s for adults.

  19. Marj says:

    One of my favorite quotes on marriage “You know those people who think you gotta be happy all the time – they’re kids. They shouldn’t be messin’ with marriage, which is for grown-ups” (Aunt Dimity & the Duke)
    I tend to think that people who don’t think marriage is necessary, don’t understand it, and maybe never will. A person in a happy marriage understands it, but could never fully explain it.

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