Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The bountiful returns of marriage

By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published June 17, 2024  | En Español

My parents were married in June, and, although any month is suitable for a wedding, June has long been thought of as the ideal month for marriage. I want to reflect here on the sacrament of marriage and the benefits it offers to couples and to the larger society. 

Bishop Joel M. Konzen, S.M.

Earlier this year, Brad Wilcox, who studies family dynamics, wrote a piece for Our Sunday Visitor, in which he included the following: “The good news about marriage is that married men and women are the most financially secure, least lonely, healthiest and happiest people in America today. Their children have the best life outcomes compared to their peers whose parents are not married. And marriage works for people from a variety of backgrounds.” Couples who are looking, no matter what, to get married don’t need to know this list of positives; they will simply enjoy the benefits of the sacrament. Those who are unconvinced of the merits of marriage do well to become familiar with the ample amount of evidence supporting the married state. 

There has been a steady decline in marriage throughout America over the last 50 years. In 1974, 10.5 individuals out of 1,000 married that year. In 2024, the number had fallen to 6.5 out of 1,000. The Catholic statistics follow the national numbers closely, with a 69% decline in the number of Catholic marriages between 1969 and 2019. 

Studies say that the decline in marriage is related to a decline in dating. A survey by the Institute for Family Studies in 2021 asked people under 55 who desired marriage why they were not married: 58% said, “It’s hard to find the right person to marry.” Some pointed to a reliance on social media and the inability to connect to people through in-person settings. 

A 2022 release from the Institute for Family Studies indicates that 87% of married women with children report being happy or very happy. 84% of married women without children reported the same. Among unmarried women, 77% with children reported being happy or very happy, and 75% without children reported the same. Underlying the reported happiness is the security and companionship that accompany being married. I generally counsel couples that the chief aim of marriage is not happiness, but unity, and that unity results in happiness. One could rightly interpret these figures by pointing to the overarching effect of unity in marriage and how that generates happiness.   

The takeaway from these figures reveals what many already know, that marriage is a significant factor in providing stability and long-term happiness. Chances are that those who are reading this column are strong supporters of Catholic marriage. It’s often family members and friends whom we would like to see reap the benefits of marriage, although we recognize the limits of how much our knowledge and opinions can influence the readiness of someone else to advance to matrimony. 

We should, though, be prepared to defend the sacrament and state of marriage in discussions with those who may be questioning it or may be unsure of its place in today’s life options. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 88% of parents said it was extremely or very important for their children to be financially independent, although just 21% responded that it was extremely or very important for their children to marry (David Brooks, NYT). There is ample data suggesting that children themselves fare better in homes with stable married parents, with lower levels of anxiety and depression. 

Attitudes toward marriage and having children bear heavily on the future that can be expected in which there are far fewer births and many more people living singly. 

We are strongly geared toward finding the right career and job in the United States, more so than on finding the right life partner, which often gets postponed indefinitely. This is no call to rush to the altar, in June or any other month, but it is a sober reminder that, while marriage is not a panacea, its returns are bountiful in the lives of the children produced in a marriage and in the overall levels of satisfaction for wives and husbands.