I will never be one of those old ladies who talks incessantly about the “good old days.” On the other hand, I believe older people provide a historical perspective that can be helpful. In honor of marriage equality in North Carolina, let’s talk about the history of marriage.
Back when every story ended “they lived happily ever after,”marriage was the legal and religious union of a man and a woman of the same race, religion, and social status. The wife was supposed to be the nurturer and the husband was intended to be the decisionmaker.
Although premarital sex was common, it was secret. People considered openly living together before marriage “living in sin.” When I was in college it was common practice for roommates to help scour the dorm room to remove all evidence of sexual activity before any parents came to visit. Today, almost half of all women live with their partner before marriage.
Fifty years ago, sociologist Jessie Bernard talked about the “his-and-her marriage,” one in which marriage generally benefited the man more than the woman.
Some things have changed, it’s true. But a lot has not. Heterosexual marriage still benefits men more than women. Consider:
- Women ask for divorce two-thirds of the time;
- After divorce, men experience health risks equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day;
- The death rate for unmarried men is twice as high as it is for married men;
- More married men say they are extremely happy with their sex lives than do married women.
On the other hand, there are some advantages for women. Not the least of which is that women’s financial situation improves after marriage and they are more likely to have health insurance.
A big difference is that marriage seems to benefit men whether the marriage is a happy one or not. In order for a woman to gain health benefits, the relationship needs to be satisfying. Married women in good relationships are less prone to heart disease, anger, depression, and anxiety than women who are not married. And, for each year of marriage, a woman’s risk of dying prematurely decreases.
Almost all the research suggests that these benefits — for both men and women– are a result of marriage, not just living together.
It will be fascinating to see what happens with the health of same-sex partners now that they can legally get married nationwide. No doubt, same-sex couples will have improved access to health care as husbands and wives can now receive coverage from their spouse’s insurance policy. Plus, with legal recognition comes reduced stigma and stress which can impact gay Americans’ physical health.
I wonder is straight marriage benefits husbands more than wives, will gay men benefit more from it than lesbians?
Regardless, as we old ladies say, “dollars to doughnuts” gay people will be better off. You mark my words!