The sociology of marriage

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According to University of Virginia Sociology Professor and National Marriage Project Director W. Bradford Wilcox, instead of teaching children and teens that adult happiness lies in education and career success, we should encourage them to find meaning and purpose in marriage and family first.

Wilcox was speaking at "Why Marriage (Still) Matters," an Aug. 8 diocesan workshop exploring the Catholic definition of marriage and its benefits as understood by modern science. The morning workshop took place at St. Joseph Church in Herndon, opening and concluding with remarks from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

"Just yesterday (Aug. 7) marked six weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court's tragic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing same-sex civil marriage)," said the bishop. "In the wake of Obergefell, with so many other forces at work to threaten authentic marriage and the family, we as Catholics may be tempted to despair."

According to Wilcox, the traditional concept of marriage benefits children by increasing financial resources available for their upbringing, establishing stability, providing consistent attention and promoting biological bonds between parents and siblings.

With a mother and father actively present in family life, children learn "two different approaches to authority - top-down from Dad and collegial from Mom," said Wilcox.

Overall, Wilcox stressed that the best-adjusted children tend to come from "college-educated, stable families" where the parents are married. They are more likely to graduate from college and become gainfully employed as adults.

"A father's talents include providing, playing, challenging kids and disciplining," said Wilcox. "Mom's talents include communication and establishing an emotional connection."

Children raised in single-parent homes or homes where their parents cohabitate but are unmarried experience a higher risk of psychological, emotional and economic stress, according to studies Wilcox cited. He added that teen girls in this situation are more likely to become pregnant, while boys raised in such an environment are more likely to become incarcerated as adults.

"Without a dad to look out, there is nobody to model an appropriate form of masculinity," said Wilcox, explaining that a father's absence affects a girl's self-esteem and a boy's proclivity for violence.

Other problems associated with being raised by unmarried parents include higher drug use, a higher high school drop-out rate and an increased likelihood of depression.
But marriage not only benefits the children, Wilcox said, it also benefits the couple.

"Married people are less likely to commit suicide and more likely to report life happiness," he said. "The sacrifices made for marriage are worth it."

Wilcox cited mental health, financial status and security as some of the main benefits of marriage from a sociological perspective. In courtship, he explained the sociological importance of finding a spouse with shared values, postponing sexual activity and not delaying marriage.

After the talk, audience members asked Wilcox about how same-sex households and adoption affect children. He explained that while there have not been enough scientific studies to draw conclusive evidence about the impact same-sex parents may have on a child's well-being, he suspects that children from these households will face similar psychological and emotional disadvantages as those whose parents are cohabitating or divorced.

Wilcox also said that adopted children often experience some psychological problems, especially once they reach their teens, because they do not have the benefit of sharing a biological bond with their parents. He urged communities to be accepting and supportive of families with adopted children.

Bishop Loverde closed the workshop by stating that science confirms Catholic beliefs on marriage.

"Authentic marriage has not gone out of fashion," he said.

Find out more
To read Wilcox's writings on marriage, go to To learn more about diocesan efforts in promoting traditional marriage, go to and

Stoddard can be reached at

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015