“My Way or the Highway” Doesn’t “Get the Job Done”

Written by Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse


For too many Americans, traditional marriage is passé. The marriage rate today is well under half of what it was in 1969. Consequently, the number of persons not living in families — persons the Census Bureau refers to as “unrelated individuals” — has increased by more than three times. Many of the persons living alone are divorced. All together, “unrelated individuals” comprise 17.5 percent of our population of 304 million; take note that better than one fifth of these unrelated individuals live in poverty. Not exactly the yuppie life of “Friends” or “Sex and the City.”

Yet, from the academics in the university to the actors in Hollywood, those who are shaping popular culture today are pushing a self-destructive, “me first” lifestyle; these opinion leaders gloss over the selfishness of the choices they promote and glamorize decisions about drugs and sex that ultimately scar the lives of those young people who follow their lead. “It’s all good” is their mantra. But where does that attitude lead?

Marriage, so the message goes, has always been about male domination of women, not about two people learning what it means to respect and value each other. According to the destructive view, marriage only degrades and oppresses women.

But is that actually the case? What if the give and take of marriage — so necessary for two persons, usually opposite in many respects, to get along — is, in fact, a positive teacher? In the results of the current recession, we have a ready-made experiment by which to examine this question.

When the economy goes into recession, businesses (especially small ones) must make severe adjustments in order to survive. Recent data is very clear about which class of workers has the highest likelihood of ending up unemployed. Unmarried males, whether or not they have children, are twice as likely to become unemployed, and the same holds for unmarried females with children.

The unemployment rate for married men 25-54 years of age without children was 7.1 percent versus 14.5 percent for unmarried men of the same age group without children. If we look at this same age group for men with children, the comparison shows 6.7 percent unemployment for married men versus 14.8 percent for unmarried men. Clearly, marriage produces men who, on average, are more valued by businesses trying to survive during this recession.

But does marriage do anything for women in the business world? Although the current recession has been harder on men than women, the effects of marriage on women’s employability are similar to those for men. The recent unemployment rate for married women 25-54 without children was 5.4 percent, and for unmarried women without children it was 7.5 percent. In this same age group, the unemployment rate of married women with children was 5.2 percent, compared with an 11.8 percent rate for unmarried women.

It is unlikely that business managers looking to make it through tough times choose persons on the basis of whether they are married or not. So why do we see consistently higher unemployment rates for unmarried men and women alike (controlling for both age and presence of children)? There can be little doubt that managers choose to retain those who have a set of traits and attitudes that being married can help develop and which, in turn, help sustain a marriage.

Now it goes without saying that there are good marriages and there are bad marriages, depending upon the values and virtues of the persons involved. But marriage does provide a framework with a tremendous potential and incentive for learning how to work together. Being unmarried may let you “have it your way,” but a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude doesn’t pay off on the job, where the ability to compromise and get along are just as essential to smooth operations as they are in a marriage.

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