Family Policy Matters Radio Posts

  "Family Policy Matters" Radio   Marriage & Parenting

Can Getting Married Save Civilization? With Dr. Brad Wilcox

Dr. Brad Wilcox Headshot

Marriage rates have dropped 65% in the last 50 years. Many individuals no longer value getting married the way they used to, and this is having many negative effects on our society. Why does marriage matter so much, and how do we get people to see its importance?

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Dr. Brad Wilcox to discuss the importance of marriage and his new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization.

  • Subscribe to our podcast so you can hear our interviews every week.
  • Tune in to one of the radio stations that carry Family Policy Matters (see the list below).
  • Click below to listen online.

SpotifyApple PodcastsiHeart RadioAudacyAmazon Music

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Can Getting Married Save Civilization?

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Here’s an interesting fact. Data continues to clearly show that the happiest, least lonely, and most financially secure people in America today are those who are married. We’re joined today by one of the nation’s leading marriage researchers, Dr. Brad Wilcox. He is a professor of sociology and Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. His newest book, Get Married: Why Americans Should Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, will be released on St. Valentine’s Day. Dr. Brad Wilcox, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.

BRAD WILCOX: Traci, it’s good to be with you today.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, you’ve written quite a lot on the topic of marriage; what is left to say in this arena?

BRAD WILCOX: Great question. So, I’ve done a lot of work over the years underlying the ways in which marriage matters for our children. But as I’ve been talking to young adults today, including young women at UVA, about their dreams, aspirations, and experiences, when it comes to love, dating, and marriage, I’m just detecting a greater sense of concern, either implicitly, or directly from them about their prospects for dating, meeting, and marrying. And so I’ve been thinking about how much, you know, marriage matters for adults. And what we can do to bring the marriage rate back up, it’s actually come down 65%, Traci, since 1970. And we’re now projecting that a record share of young adults today, like the students who come into my office hours at UVA. One in three of them will never marry, for 20 somethings in general. We’ve never been at this place where marriage is going to be kind of out of reach or less important for so many young adults today in America. So I’m just motivated to try to give people a sense of all the different ways in which marriage matters for not just kids but also for men and women today.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, is this what you refer to in your book as “the closing of the American heart,” this turning away from marriage?

BRAD WILCOX: Yeah, so the declines in the marriage rate are one indicator of this closing of the American heart that I talk about in the book. We also can look at declines in dating as another indicator there, and then the falling fertility rate, too. So our fertility rate fell from about 2.1, in around 2008, where the average American would have about two kids. And we’re now down to 1.6 babies on average, and I think we’re heading lower there. And what that means, again, practically, is that probably at least one in four young adults today will never have children. Again, this is a record sort of share of childlessness that’s going to be looming for young adults today. I’m a father and I take a tremendous sense of meaning from my own children. I’ve got one twin, for instance, who finds me every night as she goes to bed and gives me a kiss or a hug, and it just makes me sad to think there going to be a lot of young adults today who are never going to have that experience in their adult lives.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, so you have a great title; we’re going to take each of the three statements that you make in the title and talk a little bit more about those. So, first of all, how do you see getting married as defying the elites?

BRAD WILCOX: I’m talking about the importance of defying the elites, you know, heading up to elites in a sense. And when the book came out on the internet, there is some snarky comments from folks on the left about that. And their point was, “Well, actually, elites in America, Brad, tend to get married more than common people nowadays”, and they’re correct. What I’m talking about in the book is the way in which our elites tend to advance cultural ideas, norms, and public policies that undercut marriage. That weaken marriage and make it harder for ordinary people to do the things, get the money that’s needed to get married and stay married.

So I’m thinking, for instance, of the way in which our welfare programs in America penalize marriage. So Medicaid often ends up making it a bad deal for working-class couples with kids to go ahead and get married. It just makes more sense financially for them to forego marriage, cohabit, and have mom apply and get Medicaid. And I’ve seen that in a number of situations here in Virginia. And then, when it comes to the culture, a lot of our elites are propagating ideas that would suggest that marriage is not a good route. Motherhood is not a good route for happiness. I’ve seen stories in the New York Times, stories in Bloomberg that would tend to deny or devalue the value of marriage and motherhood for women today, either financially or emotionally and that’s false.

And then, in the last two weeks, Traci, I have been seeing so many Stories from elite media, from New York Magazine to the New York Times, making a sense of the case for polyamory. And that’s also a complete dead end when it comes to forging a strong and stable marriage. So that’s what I’m talking about when it comes to defying elites. You have to recognize that we’re often getting anti-marriage messages from our elites, and many of our public policies are, in effect, anti-marriage. And so we need to think about ways to change our public policies, and then also, we need to be very skeptical about the kinds of ideas about marriage and family if they’re being brought to our attention by a lot of mainstream media types.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, the second point in your title is forging a strong family. So is there a difference between, say, just getting married and doing the things to forge that strong family?

BRAD WILCOX: So in the book, I talked about kind of five pillars that undergird a family first marriage, a marriage that really understands and appreciates that marriage is not just an emotional relation, but it’s also a financial issue. And especially it’s the relationship about your kids and kin. And you have to have all of those things in mind as you approach marriage and family life. More particularly, I talk about the five C’s in the book. I talk about the importance of Communion, you know, between a couple. I talk about the importance of Children, recognizing that your kids are dependent upon you oftentimes to have a good marriage. Recognizing the importance of Commitment that’s the third seat. The fourth C is Cash, and we see particular as having a reliable male breadwinner in the household is pretty important for getting and staying married, even today in 2024. And the fifth C is about Community; it’s primarily explained in the book in terms of, you know, if you’ve got a religious bone in your body, Traci, what we see is that couples who are attending church together are more likely to be flourishing in their marriages, compared to folks who have no religious community. So those are the five C’s, and people who are approaching marriage with a couple of those as part and parcel as a foundation for their marriage are much more likely to be flourishing today in the US.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, saving civilization. That’s a pretty bold claim for marriage, but it is in the title of your book. So, how do you defend marriage as a means of saving civilization?

BRAD WILCOX: What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that their marriage doesn’t just matter for them, or their spouse, or even their children. It matters for their neighborhood. It matters for their city. It matters for their state, their country. And again, think a lot of Americans think about marriage is just a private affair. But what they don’t see is that it actually affects the common good. Everyone’s affected by, in a sense, the character and quality of your marriage and family life. And so we can think about that practically, in terms of just, for instance, you know, if you get divorced, you know, you’re more likely to land in family court, there are going to be costs that the taxpayer has to has to bear as a consequence of you going before a judge. All the court costs that, you know, that flow from that.

We often see, too, that kids are being raised in unstable families. Single-parent families are more likely to have difficulty with the law or at school. And so, again, the taxpayer has to pay more money to help kids who have been affected by some kind of family instability on the homefront. And then, just two other key indicators kind of give you a sense of how much marriage matters for the American civilization. I’m actually right now sitting kind of in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. And he was famous for obviously, among other things, drafting the Declaration of Independence. And there’s a phrase in there called the pursuit of happiness, which we all know about or come about, in part, the pursuit of happiness in this civilization of ours. And we’ve been seeing since around 2000, happiness rates come down in America. And the number one factor, Traci, driving that fall in happiness is the fact that fewer and fewer Americans are married. So we’re not doing as better in realizing that core civilizational goal, that pursuit of happiness, because fewer and fewer Americans are managing to make it to the altar.

And the other thing that I would just say, too, is that our civilization has really, I think, rightly prioritized the American Dream. This idea that you might be born poor, but if you work hard and apply yourself, you know you can rise economically and otherwise over the course of your life. And what we see is that parts of this country that have more two-parent families, like Salt Lake City metro area, have much higher rates of mobility for poor kids rags to riches, you know, being poor, as a kid rich as an adult. Compared to places like Charlotte, North Carolina, where there’s a lot more single-parent families in the Charlotte, North Carolina metro area. And so just more generally, than the sort of the state of the American dream, so to speak, is just much stronger in places where there are more married parent families, you know, that are there and for not just their own kids, but kids in the neighborhood. So, if we’re kind of interested in reviving the character of the American Dream across the country, we just need to do more to strengthen marriage and family life across our country as well.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So when you have your students that come to you and your office hours, you mentioned that you talk with them many times privately about marriage. What is the takeaway message that you’re giving to them both in your classes, but also in private moments that you might have with students?

BRAD WILCOX: Sure, one thing that I say to my students is you should be kind of as intentional about your dating life and sort of thinking about marriage as you are about your education and your professional plans. A lot of UVA students are very ambitious and very motivated; they’ve got like a 10-point plan for their schooling and their job. And then you ask them, well, you know, would you like to get married? Oh, yeah. You know, what’s your plan for finding a spouse, and there’s complete silence; they haven’t given it really a moment’s thought. And so I just encouraged them to kind of begin to think about, you know, how would you meet someone? How would you approach dating? And we thought about people here at the university, you know, recognizing that this is probably the most people you’re going to meet, that could be potential marriage partners down the road at any point in your life. So just encouraging to be intentional. And so I was kind of making this point to a graduate student at UVA recently, who, very marriage friendly, but again, he had clear plans for his education and work, but he had really no clear plans for dating, and I encourage them like, well, why don’t you ask someone out on a date you know, if you know, someone kind of in your, in your network. And I’ve been pleased to sort of see him around here with a young woman. So I think he took my advice. So that’s the kind of thing that I would, you know, encourage students to sort of do practically to avoid ending up unwillingly single in midlife for later life.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, who can we blame this on? I know you mentioned the elites. But surely, there are a lot of other factors that are in play here.

BRAD WILCOX: There are lots of things happening that I talk about in the book. And so part of it is that our elites are, I think, discounting the value of marriage. I think dating apps aren’t particularly helpful in mass; I mean, obviously, they help some people get married, but they cultivate a really, I think, superficial and picky approach to dating and marriage, which isn’t helpful for a lot of ordinary people. I think the falling fortunes of men financially and educationally, you know, in recent years, is also a big problem. A lot of men are not attractive in terms of their capacity to be decent providers or just kind of, you know, have their act together. I think our schools and what I call kind of electronic opiates, things like you know, Xbox and whatnot, are all factors that have undercut the marriageability of our young men today as well. So, growing secularization is obviously a factor. So, there are a number of cultural and, legal and economic factors that are kind of all combining to make marriage more difficult. And it’s for that reason, in part, why I think people have to be a lot more intentional to young adults and their parents and professors and religious leaders, others become more intentional about helping them figure out a path towards getting married.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, so what can we as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, what can we do to encourage and strengthen the idea the concept, I guess, of marriage for young people.

BRAD WILCOX: So, one thing is to stop telling them to wait until they’re 28 or 30 to look for a spouse. A lot of the kids that I deal with at the University of Virginia have parents who basically told them, ‘don’t get serious about someone, don’t fall in love with someone don’t invest in relationships in college, that’s for just education and getting ready for a career’. I think it’s very short-sighted. I met my wife at UVA many years ago, grateful for that. And I’m so happy that we started dating at UVA; we got married three years later. And I just think that parents should instead encourage their kids to be open to dating and a serious relationship in college. But I think beyond that they should be really encouraging their young adults to be dating with an eye toward marriage and to be aware of opportunities to meet people. Whether it’s through being involved in a church community, whether it’s volunteering in your local community, whether it’s, you know going to the Christmas office party. I just think parents need to be a lot more proactive in encouraging their young adults to get out there, meet people, and especially encourage young men to ask someone out on a date in person.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’re just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Dr. Brad Wilcox, where can our listeners go to follow all of your good work and, of course, get a copy of your new book, Get Married: Why Americans Should Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization?

BRAD WILCOX: So allows them to get the book and see some of my articles and videos, and then is a great place to go as well. And then this whole time leading up to February 14, Valentine’s Day is called National Marriage Week and there’s a lot of good opportunities and events that they can access at the National Marriage Week website.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Dr. Brad Wilcox, thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

– END –


Receive Our Legislative Alerts