Married, churchgoing couples among the happiest, data says

SabolWilcox Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, speaks to ENN Host Tracy Sabol on Feb. 12, 2024. | Credit: “EWTN News Nightly”

Men and women who are married and who attend church regularly are among the happiest couples, according to data compiled by a prominent sociological professor. 

Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia as well as the director of the school’s National Marriage Project, told “EWTN News Nightly” this week that he wrote his newest book, “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization,” after hearing concerns from his students about the state of marriage today. 

“They’re kind of worried about their prospects for marriage, particularly the women at UVA,” Wilcox told “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol. “And so this kind of concern led me to write a book on the importance [and] the value” of adults getting married.

Contrary to popular perception, Wilcox said, data indicate that married men and women are markedly happier than their unmarried counterparts. 

“We’ve been seeing a lot of stories … talking about the ways in which [women], for instance, are kind of really miserable in marriage and miserable as mothers,” Wilcox said, citing a recent media report alleging that “married moms were less well off” than “single, childless women.” 

“In fact, the data point us in exactly the opposite direction,” he said. “What we see is that for both women and men, the path to prosperity and happiness kind of runs right through marriage. So both women and men who are married, for instance, are almost twice as likely to be very happy with their lives compared to their single peers.”

“There’s really no group that’s as happy for men as married dads and for women as married moms,” Wilcox said. “So as tough as marriage [and] as tough as being a parent can be, the upside to having a spouse and kids for most Americans is pretty high.”

The happiness factor, Wilcox said, shows up even more prominently in married couples who attend church regularly.

“What we see in this data is that couples who attend church together are about 15 percentage points more likely to be very happy with their marriages,” Wilcox said. “They’re about 30% to 50% less likely to get divorced, depending upon the data set.” 

Those high numbers also translate to higher sexual satisfaction for married couples, he said.

“I think the thing that surprised me the most was that not only are they more sexually satisfied on average, but couples who attend church together tend to have more sex than couples who don’t go to church at all,” Wilcox said. “So there’s just any number of outcomes that look better for couples who go to church together.”

Declining divorce rates in recent years are a sign of encouragement, Wilcox pointed out, though overall declining marriage rates present problems of their own, he said. 

“The ’70s were known as the divorce revolution,” he told Sabol. “But since then, divorce has been coming down. And so today at least, we’re estimating that well below 1 in 2 couples who are getting married are going to end up getting divorced. Or to put it more positively, most of the couples who are getting married today are going to go the distance.”

“We are seeing, because marriage is more stable, that a growing share of kids are being raised in stably married households,” Wilcox said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is for American adults, we’re still seeing a pretty marked decline in marriage rates. And they call that the closing of the American heart.”

Data have long pointed toward a sustained drop in marriage rates for every age cohort following the “Silent Generation,” the group of Americans born between 1928 and 1945. A recent Pew survey found that just 30% of marriage-age millennials live with a spouse and a child, compared with 70% of those from the Silent Generation at the same stage in their lives.

Wilcox told CNA last year that sharply declining marriage rates among younger Americans had him concerned. 

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“A lot of adults — more than one-third of young adults today in their 20s — will never marry,” he said at the time. “This is record demographic territory we’re heading into.”

National Marriage Week is observed in the U.S. every Feb. 7–14, coinciding with World Marriage Day on the second Sunday of every February. 

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