Marriage and family are much discussed today, and not only among Christians. Marriage rates are going down, the meaning of marriage is contested, and dropping fertility is raising worries of a lonely and childless future, even in the church. Meanwhile, many Christian singles are left hoping their local church will somehow help them get married—or that our growing numbers will finally convince congregations to stop making us feel like second-class Christians.

The latest contribution to this conversation is Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, a new book from Brad Wilcox, a Christian professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Wilcox is experienced, widely published, and respected in his field. He’s pulling off an admirable feat: leading a secular institution without compromising his Christian values or reducing his work to a “fringe” project only valued inside the church.

Get Married is a popular-level distillation of that academic work. Wilcox argues that while most culture shapers in our society—from journalists to celebrities, artists to influencers—promote a cynical idea of marriage, data shows that perspective is wrong. And we need to understand the good of marriage, he contends, because the alternatives to a society where most people get married are worrisome: either fewer children (which means a less dynamic economy and declining family and community life) or more out-of-wedlock births (which means more child poverty and more crime).

The book follows a consistent pattern: Each chapter introduces a popular negative idea about marriage, then presents a mountain of mainstream research (much of it conducted by Wilcox himself) and anecdotes debunking the claim. For example, popular wisdom says single people are happier. But the data shows that’s not true; in fact, no single factor better determines happiness and life satisfaction than marriage. Wilcox similarly debunks common claims that single people are wealthier, that divorce is often unpreventable, that parenthood makes you unhappy, and that economic pressures are the main reason marriage and fertility rates are so low.

The strength of Get Married is how deeply aware Wilcox is of modern conversations around marriage. He easily references cultural influences ranging from the anti-marriage rhetoric of red-pill male influencers like Andrew Tate to self-centered views of love marketed toward women in works like Eat Pray Love. And just as important, Wilcox’s responses are readable and research-based, providing a concise compilation of the data in this sprawling debate.

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While the book is primarily written for a secular audience, Christians will find its information deeply relevant to our own conversations around marriage. You may be gratified (and in some cases, surprised) to learn how much of this data from mainstream researchers corroborates basic Christian teaching on marriage. For instance, religious couples who attend services regularly are among the least likely to divorce and the most likely to report being happy in their marriages. So are couples who put guardrails around their marriages to avoid opportunities for temptation.

For Christian singles specifically, Get Married may produce more mixed feelings. Many singles already feel our fellow Christians are dismissive of our circumstances, unwilling to take seriously how difficult it is to find a spouse, or assuming that because we aren’t married yet, we must not value marriage and family. Wilcox’s arguments that married people are usually happier than singles—and that failure to marry is often due to poor personal choices—may feel like even more unfair assumptions, however well supported by data the arguments are.

But as a Christian single myself, I found most of Wilcox’s challenges refreshing rather than hurtful. If I embrace singleness, is it because of a call of God on my life (and a rejection of the idolatry of marriage and family)? Or is it because I’ve made an idol of careerism and individualism? For single Christians not pursuing marriage, these are difficult questions, but worth asking.

For singles who are pursuing marriage, Get Married is deeply hopeful. I struggle a lot with my singleness both inside and outside the church. The problem I face most is that Christians either have no good advice for how to find a spouse or they tell me that there’s something wrong with me for still looking for marriage. I should just “focus on Jesus” and “let it happen or not,” they say.

Get Married disagrees. With data to support his claims, Wilcox’s work says my desire for a spouse is not something wrong with me but something deeply right. It says I may be doing things that are holding me back from having a spouse—but I can also stop doing those things and instead take steps to make it very likely I will have a happy and lasting marriage.

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That said, while Wilcox acknowledges ways our culture has made it harder to find a spouse—careerism, loosening community ties, an education system increasingly inhospitable to boysGet Married offers little advice for how individuals can actually get married. Most of his proposals concern public policy and structural societal changes. Single readers convinced by the title and thesis of the book may be left wondering what to do next. (Wilcox gave some more concrete advice in an interview on my Overthinkers podcast.)

Get Married also would have been a stronger book if it anticipated and answered more objections to its thesis from the Left, given Wilcox’s broad intended audience. For example, he mentions that some people say they won’t have kids because of worries about climate change but he doesn’t address any reasons that fear is ill-founded. (Wilcox’s goal is not just marriage but marriage with children.) He also doesn’t grapple with the claim that it’s too soon to say whether nontraditional family arrangements, like same-sex relationships or polyamory, can produce quality-of-life benefits similar to traditional marriage.

All in all, Get Married is a vital contribution to the modern conversation around marriage—a helpful resource to make sure our views of marriage are based on facts rather than on cultural folklore and memes. Wilcox’s next task, perhaps, should be an equally data-backed book on how to actually get married in our time.

Joseph Holmes is a Christian culture critic and podcast host living and working out of New York City. He has written at outlets including Forbes, The New York Times, Religion Unplugged, Relevant, and An Unexpected Journal. He co-hosts a weekly podcast called The Overthinkers.

Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization
Our Rating
4½ Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization
Author
Publisher
Broadside Books
Release Date
February 13, 2024
Pages
320
Price
25.47
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