Promoting Marriage-Promotion with Dubious Scientific Claims: USA Today's Feature Story

USA Today is very excited about marriage. Splashed across the front page of the Health and Behavior section, set off by a colorful illustration, was this pom-pom raising headline: "Federally funded ad campaign holds up value of marriage."

You read that right - federal funds are being used in an ad campaign to promote marriage. The initiative was spearheaded by (surprise!) the Bush administration back in 2005. (The Obama team has not yet made a decision about continuing the funding for the ads.)

Never mind the appropriateness - fiscally or morally - of using federal funds to cheerlead for marriage. That's too easy. I care about the supposed scientific basis for the campaign.

Reporter Sharon Jayson, in one key sentence, perpetrates all the usual myths (and one truth) about the implications of getting married: "Research suggests a bevy of benefits for those who marry, including better health, greater wealth and more happiness for the couple, and improved well-being for children."

Actually, it doesn't, except for the wealth part. That claim is true. As I explained here and here and in Chapter 12 of Singled Out, there are 1,136 federal provisions that benefit and protect only those people who are officially married. So yes, getting married typically increases your take, since you get to tap into policies that financially favor married people at the expense of singles.

What are vastly overstated or just plain wrong are the claims that getting married makes you healthier and happier and rescues your children from doom.

In a moment, I'll give you just the Cliff Notes version of what's wrong with this conventional wisdom, because I've already gone into detail on these issues in previous posts to my Living Single blog:

Here is a guide to cracking the code of matrimaniacal media claims.
Here is a recent post debunking the claim that getting married results in a longer life.
Here and here are posts showing, on the basis of data, that the children of single parents typically do just fine, thank you.

Now for the Cliff Notes. Here are just a few of the pervasive methods and mistakes that result in the perpetuation of the myths that getting married makes you healthier and happier and saves your kids from doom. (Many more are in Singled Out.)

The cheater method. Claims that getting married makes people happier or healthier are sometimes based on comparisons between the currently married and the previously married - some of which favor the currently married. But the previously married people DID get married! Using the cheater method, you just pretend that people who are divorced or widowed never did get married.

Continue reading on the Living Single blog.

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