The Marriage Boost


Marriage, it turns out, is a primary catalyst for human flourishing. And Christian marriages that value regular church attendance offer a clear bulwark against divorce…

According to a new Gallup study and Get Married, the much-talked-about new book from Dr. Brad Wilcox (professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia), married people experience significantly higher levels of well-being than unmarried people. That means, according to a broad range of sociological research…

  • no single factor determines a person’s happiness and life satisfaction more deeply than marriage,
  • married people accumulate more wealth than single people,
  • married people with children experience higher life-satisfaction than single people or married people without children,
  • married people who attend religious services together are the least likely to divorce,
  • the life-satisfaction “boost” remains for married people, even when researchers adjust for factors such as age, race, ethnicity, gender and education, and
  • married people are less likely to experience “deaths of despair”—or death by suicide.

In a CNN.com interview, Wilcox says: “Things like race and age and gender and education matter. But marriage seems to matter more than those things when it comes to something like this measure of kind of living your best life. We’re social animals. And as Aristotle said, we are hardwired to connect.” In a direct refute to the common cynicism that infects our cultural view of marriage, Wilcox offers a mountain of data proving that perspective wrong. Marriage is not only a sacrament ordained by God, it is a clear conduit for economic growth, flourishing communities, lower poverty rates, and lower crime.

From a psychological perspective, marriage offers an antidote to the crippling impact of loneliness. “At its bare minimum,” says Dr. Monica O’Neal, a Boston psychologist, “the concept of commitment implies the experience of being bonded with another. At its very best, it means being bonded with someone who is a consistent safe and secure home base that will be there for you in the face of any adversities.” This “home base” security tips the scales for those who are struggling with life challenges and depression.

In Get Married, Wilcox spotlights not just the benefits of marriage, but the added benefits of marriages that include children. That meshes well with the in-depth research findings of Notre Dame sociologist of religion Dr. Christian Smith, whose 2021 book Handing Down the Faith is a must-read for all ministry leaders. Smith writes: “Myriad studies show that, beyond a doubt, the parents of American youth play the leading role in shaping the character of their religious and spiritual lives even well after they leave home and often for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, this parental influence has not declined in effectiveness since the 1970’s. All the research in the U.S. today shows clearly that parents are by far the most important factor influencing their children’s religion… Not clergy, religious schools, youth ministers, neighborhoods, Sunday school, missions trips, service projects, summer camps, peers, or the media.”

Parents who influence a deepening faith in their children are not only impacting their lifelong foundational relationship with God, they’re also catalyzing all the side benefits that come with that as they grow into adulthood. Those benefits include a higher likelihood of getting married, according to the Barna study. And that, in turn, kicks in all the benefits of marriage I’ve just listed…

Questions to Consider

  • Given these results, how is our congregation coming alongside single people to help find and prepare for a lifelong marriage commitment?
  • Given these results, how is our congregation supporting, nurturing, and resourcing married couples?
  • Given these results, how is our congregation helping parents to grow in their deepening relationship with Jesus, and grow in their warm and authoritative relationship with their kids?

These are questions we’re also pursuing in our Fourth-Soil Parenting Project. For more on this, check out Dr. Nancy Going’s latest update on the project HERE. If you would like help as you explore what a bolstered approach to supporting marriages might mean for you and your congregation, reach to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.  

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.







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