The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Summer
2011

The Legality of Marriage Matters


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


That irrepressible British journalist G. K. Chesterton vigorously affirmed the goods inherent in wedlock and just as vigorously opposed the evil of suicide. He would therefore see a double vindication in a Canadian study finding that married men and women are far less vulnerable to suicidal despair than are their never-married and divorced peers.

After parsing data collected between 1991 and 2001 for more than 2.5 Canadians (ages 25 and up), researchers from the University of Montréal and the University of Quebec returned results showing that marriage and intact families help prevent the tragedy of self-slaughter. “The risk of suicide among males and females who were separated/divorced/widowed or never married,” the researchers report, “was more than twice that of legally married individuals.”

And though progressive thinkers have blathered on for decades about how cohabitation is a fully functional replacement for wedlock, this study finds that suicide risk was significantly “elevated for those in common-law unions” rather than legal marriages. The Canadian researchers themselves seem to have spent too much time listening to the progressive social theorists, for they confess that they find the linkage between suicide and common-law marriage “perplexing given that common-law unions are almost equivalent to legal marital status in . . . Canada.” At least these perplexed scholars are willing to contemplate the distinct possibility that legal marriage may foster “a protective influence of marriage (e.g., partner support during difficulties)” not fostered by non-marital cohabitation.

Family structure also predicts resistance or vulnerability to suicide: the Canadian scholars find that the suicide risk runs significantly higher “among men and women not living in a family relative to two-parent families.” Not surprisingly, men and women living alone face “twice the risk of suicide relative to individuals not alone.” The researchers acknowledge that their study confirms the findings of “other studies [that] also find marriage protective, possibly because marriage confers emotional stability and reduces isolation through opportunities for social and community integration.”

Some government officials may suppose that the key to preventing suicide is a well-funded program for setting up suicide hotlines. This study suggests that the real key—as Chesterton understood—lies in keeping the wedding chapels busy and the divorce courts empty.

(Stephanie Burrows et al., “Influence of Social and Material Individual and Area Deprivation on Suicide Mortality among 2.7 Million Canadians: A Prospective Study,” BMC Public Health 11 [July 19, 2011]: 577)

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