Does marriage make men better? Recent data suggests it does

by Carly Hoilman

America’s economy is in turmoil. September marked the slowest for job growth in six months. And though public leaders and the mainstream media continue to ignore it, the “silent catastrophe” of 10 million men between the ages of 20 and 64 who have willingly exited the workforce continues to prevail, virtually unfettered. What’s to be done?

In his recently released book, “Men Without Work,” AEI political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt presents a body of evidence pointing to underlying cultural patterns that feed economic growth. In examining the last five decades, he found that though (with few exceptions) work rates for prime-aged adult men in this country have been steadily declining up until present day, “labor market performance deteriorated less for married men with children than any other family type.”

The case for marriage and fatherhood has been made before, but these latest findings bolster and lend further insight into why married men are more likely to be economically productive, civilly engaged members of society.

“Men Without Work” notes that though “marital status was already a powerful predictor of American employment behavior in 1965 for prime-age men,” in 1968 the Current Population Survey began to include more detailed questions about family structure. The wider scope of data supported previous evidence concerning marriage, but highlighted another crucial indicator of economic prosperity: fatherhood.

“Work rates in 1968 were nearly twelve points higher for a married man with children than a never-married man without them; LFPRs [Labor Force Participation Rates] were a full nine points higher. Over the following decades, labor market performance deteriorated less for married men with children than any other family type.”

The mass departure of men from the labor force in recent decades has been accompanied by a host of social concerns, such as a momentous increase in family breakdown, increased dependency on government-funded programs like welfare and disability, and increased economic dependency of able-bodied men on women. Prominent among these troubling patterns is an apparent disinterest in marriage among men between the ages of 20 and 64.

“In 1965, 85 percent of prime-age men were married, nearly 30 percentage points higher than 2015,” Eberstadt writes.

And though this vast population of mostly unmarried men who are neither employed nor looking for a job have more free time than any other class of citizens, employed married men with children still spend more time engaged in religious and volunteer activities. Further, the latter group’s sacrifice tends to extend beyond their jobs and families, pouring out into the community.

Eberstadt is careful to note, however, that marital or family status does not equate to some sort of moral superiority or immunity from economic hardship. He warns that this type of conclusion can lead people to falsely conclude that “humans are helpless objects at the mercy of overarching social forces.” Because of this natural temptation, it’s important to acknowledge the role of free will in shaping these outcomes.

It’s true that never-married men can still cultivate discipline and morality, and achieve economic prosperity. It’s also true that married men are not immune to chronically abusive, neglectful, and burdensome behavior toward their families. But as Eberstadt points out, the decision to marry and raise a family points to certain “aspirations, priorities, values, and other intangibles that do so much to explain real-world human achievements” — a self-selecting group of sorts, in other words.

What sorts of “aspirations” are common among married men with kids? Conservative Review contributor Jen Kuznicki puts it this way: “fatherhood challenges all men to become great.”

Since every economic question is a question concerning human flourishing, it can be helpful to consider factors associated with economic prosperity that aren’t quantifiable. Given Nicholas Eberstadt’s findings, it’s reasonable and helpful to note the uniquely civilizing structure of the family, the virtues it promotes, and the sacrifice it demands.

Carly Hoilman is a Correspondent for Conservative Review. You can follow her on Twitter @CarlyHoilman.

Originally published at