PROVO, Utah — Greek mythology tells the story of King Midas: a monarch who, unsatisfied with the beautiful life he shared with his wife and daughter, wished for all he touched to become gold. But too late, when his daughter became a gold statue, he discovered that his gift was actually a curse.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, told the story while speaking at a Brigham Young University forum on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
He said that in today’s society, many people suffer from a “Midas mindset”: the idea that careers, education, money or other pursuits are more important than marriage and family life.
He shared a variety of articles from Bloomberg, The Atlantic, The New York Times and others, all promoting the idea that freedom from family life is the key to happiness.
Despite this, research shows that married people are happier than single people, Wilcox said.
He highlighted data from the General Social Survey showing that while college degrees, satisfying jobs and other individual pursuits increase happiness, “simply being married is a more powerful predictor of happiness for ordinary Americans.”
Additionally, married people in their 50s have 10 times more financial assets than their single peers; and happily married people, in general, experience longer lives.
“Our ties with others ... end up being much more crucial to our welfare than how much money we have in the bank, because these ties afford meaning and direction and a sense of solidarity,” Wilcox said, adding that, “It’s these ties, not the priorities associated with the Midas mindset, that are most conducive to our happiness today in America.”
Five pillars of strong marriages
Even though marriage brings the greatest happiness, Wilcox said marriage rates have dropped about 65% since 1970, meaning that one in three of today’s young adults will never marry. And while many people think this isn’t a problem, “I am obviously not convinced that we should be nonplussed by this. ... The bad news this morning is that too many men and women are not able to find their way to the altar.”
But there’s good news, too. Wilcox said that in his research, he has identified four groups of Americans who forge strong, generally happy marriages despite the prevalence of the Midas mindset: Asian Americans, conservative people, religious people and college-educated people.
Their success is found in five key pillars:
- Communion, or a sense of “we before me” in a marriage.
- Children, or recognizing that children depend upon the stability of their parents’ marriage.
- Commitment, or recognizing the necessity of fidelity and loyalty in a marriage.
- Cash, or recognizing the practical importance of money in a marriage.
- Community, or being surrounded by people who support a couple’s marriage.
Wilcox added that today’s popular opinions often frame tradition, and especially religious tradition, as a hindrance to happiness; but a YouGov survey he conducted with colleagues found that couples who attend church together are almost 20 percentage points more likely to be very happy in their marriages. They’re also more likely to be satisfied in their sexual lives, he said.
“So we can see that when it comes to religion, that the family-first values, virtues and social networks supplied by religion typically strengthen and stabilize marriage in America today,” Wilcox said.
Promoting marriage, he continued, means forging a “marriage mindset” in high schools and colleges, on social media, and in churches and homes.
“Every social media platform needs compelling new voices like yours to tell the truth about the most important social institution in winsome and powerful ways,” Wilcox said. “In other words, you and I have to build a culture centered around the most important thing, which of course is not gold, but love.”