03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Two Scholars Ask: What if Marriage Is Bad for Us?

People who dislike my writings are fond of calling me anti-marriage, but that's not quite accurate. What I really think is that marriage is not for everyone, and that people who want to stay single should not be targeted with singlism because of it. People who marry should refrain from becoming matrimaniacs, as should the rest of the society. I believe, based on a close reading of original scientific sources, that most of the demeaning claims about single people are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. I also question the status of marriage as a criterion of eligibility for such basic human dignities as access to health care (as when marrieds can access health insurance through a spouse's plan but singles have no comparable option) or to a secure retirement (as when a widow can access their deceased spouse's Social Security benefits but singles can neither receive benefits from, say, a close friend or sibling, nor can they bequeath their benefits to any such peers).

Earlier this fall, two scholars posed a starker question than my own: "What if marriage is bad for us?" The essay by Middlebury College sociologists Laurie Essig and Lynn Owens was originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and later reprinted elsewhere. You can read their fully-developed argument here. In this post, I'll describe some of the main points, then leave it to all of you to post your reactions in the Comments section.

The scholars begin by reviewing the usual claims about all the ways in which marriage is supposed to be good for us. They also take us through some of the segments of society, from progressive advocacy groups to conservative (and not-at-all-conservative) political leaders who have tried so hard to advance those beliefs.

Then they pivot and take on the claims, one after another. For example:

1. In response to the pronouncement that "marriage makes you healthy," they note (as I often have) that "married and never-married Americans are similar; it's the divorced who seem to suffer." They then dare to add this: "The lesson might be to never divorce, but an even more obvious lesson to be drawn from the research might be to never marry."

2. About the myth that single people are isolated and alone, the authors point to research showing that actually, married couples are more often isolated. They note that "we are instructed by movies, pop songs, state policy, and sociology to get married because 'love is all you need.' But actually we humans need more."

3. Does marriage make you rich? Not necessarily. And, "even when marriage does produce wealth, divorce often destroys it."

4. Surely we can all agree that (continue reading here at the Living Single blog at Psychology Today).

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