If sitcoms, movies, opinion pieces, and mainstream editorials were our only source of information, we’d have to conclude that marriage is a path to misery, the “old ball and chain” that only ties us down, limits our freedom, and stifles our sexual fun. Many people think of marriage less as “settling down” and more as “settling,” especially young people, who are told, “You’ve got plenty of time, live a little, first” (as if life ends after the wedding).   

The truth, however, is that marriage is, statistically, the single best predictor of long-term happiness. Writing at UnHerdsociologist Brad Wilcox and the Institute for Family Studies’ David Bass pointed to new research from the University of Chicago that suggests that “Americans who are married with children are now leading happier and more prosperous lives, on average, than men and women who are single and childless.” And, it’s not just a little bit happier. According to Wilcox and Bass, there is a “startling 30-percentage-point happiness divide between married and unmarried Americans.”  

In other words, in America, the happiness divide and the marriage divide are largely the same. Sam Peltzman, lead researcher behind the University of Chicago paper, isolated all other factors among thousands of respondents, including income, education, race, location, age, and gender. “The most important differentiator” when it comes to who is happy and who is not, he concluded, is marriage. “Low happiness characterizes all types of non-married,” Peltzman writes, whether divorced, widowed, or never married. “No subsequent population categorization will yield so large a difference in happiness across so many people.”  

What makes this data even more important is that, for at least the last 20 years now, Americans have been steadily getting less happy. What this data suggests is that the decline of marriage over the last several decades is a cause of the decline in happiness. As Peltzman put it to The Atlantic, in statistical hyperbole, “The only happy people for 50 years have been married people.”   

Of course, happiness isn’t the only or even the best reason to get married. Many things in life carry deep meaning and significance but don’t necessarily make us happy. A life lived only for happiness is a futile “chasing after the wind.” Enduring suffering, overcoming trials and tragedy, or sacrificing time, energy, or even our lives for others are all richly worthwhile pursuits that yield rewards in eternity. Certainly, loving someone and raising godly children is worth it, even if it’s not always fun. And, of course, the meaning of “happiness” is malleable.   

Still, these consistently stark results are unmistakable. At the very least, they should challenge the thinking universally preached in sitcoms, movies, and opinion pieces. Marriage is one of the chief sources of wellbeing and satisfaction in life. The fact that marriage rates have declined so dramatically over the last 50 years has had real, population-wide consequences.  

According to Wilcox and Bass, there are various reasons for the decline, but among the most telling is the decline of religious affiliation and commitment. Religious people tend to wed and stay married at a higher rate. So, our marriage problem is, at root, a worldview problem, fed not only by the misleading portrayals of entertainment and media, but also by the terrible experience the last few generations of young adults have had in their own upbringing. Marriage is part of God’s plan for humanity and for His creation. No other human institution forges such lasting and consequential bonds, and no other human institution brings such personal and social damage when it fails.  

If we are to fix marriage, we first need to know what is true. I know of no one doing a better job of telling the truth about marriage than Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. On Monday, April 15, at 7 p.m. MST, Dr. Wilcox will join me to discuss the truth about families, marriage, and specifically, the role of faith in preserving and growing families. Join us via livestream for this Lighthouse Voices event entitled, “How Faith Matters for American Families.” Register at 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 

This Breakpoint was revised from one released on 9.19.23.

Image credit: ©GettyImages/jacoblund

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.