THE BLOG
06/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Marriage a Barbarian-Adoption Program?

In the March 2010 issue of the Atlantic magazine, there is a widely-read story, How a new jobless era will transform America, written by Don Peck. He quotes W. Bradford Wilcox as claiming the following:

"Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they're happier and healthier." (It is in the section, "Men and family in a jobless age," on p. 3 if you are reading it online, or p. 53 in the print version.)

Brad Wilcox is making the case for what Katha Pollitt once called a "barbarian adoption program," whereby women are urged to marry men so as to domesticate and tame them.

In Singled Out, I took apart these claims about married men and single men. Here I'll just mention some highlights.

One of the Marriage Mafia's favorite sources of the claim that marriage civilizes men is a book by Steven Nock, Marriage in Men's Lives. The research described in that book does suggest that men spend more time in church groups after marrying. However, other statements that Nock makes (and others repeat) are not even supported by Nock's own data. Here's some of what I said in Singled Out about the claim that married men work harder:

Nock believes that marriage motivates men to work harder and more responsibly. As he notes in his chapter on adult achievement, "Marriage is also the engine that fuels greater effort and dedication to the goal of doing well." Workers who care about the good of their fellow workers and about their occupation or profession should put in the time to back up that dedication. Married men could, for example, evince their greater responsibility to the workplace by participating more often in groups such as farm organizations, unions, or professional societies. Only they don't. In fact, according to Nock's own reporting, men who marry spent less time at such work-related activities than they had when they were single. They do, though, work 2.2 weeks more per year than they had before. That's the kind of work that pays - them, but not anyone else. Even this one marriage incentive fizzles for men who remarry; they work 7.4 weeks less than they had when they were divorced. (You can read more online here.)

It is true that men who marry spend less time with friends than they did when they were single. They are also less generous with their friends after marrying. How, though, does this qualify as acting more civilized?

The drop in the time that married men spend in bars is part of an overall trend toward doing less of all sorts of other enjoyable [continue reading here].