Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

The Publication of “The Case for Marriage” Kicked Up an Ideological Storm

To make the case for marriage you need good science, reported accurately.

Previously, I've written here about a book called The Case for Marriage, comparing what the book claims about the implications of getting married to what the data actually do show. When the book was first published a decade ago, there was much controversy because Harvard University Press rejected it. Conservatives said this was just another example of liberal media bias.

I revisited the issue in an essay I published earlier in the week at the Huffington Post. Living Single readers already know what I think of the claims made by The Case, so I didn't post it here. On second thought, though, perhaps some readers would be interested in hearing the back story of the publication of that book, so I'm reprinting the first part of my Huffington Post essay below. As you will see, I think the focus on liberal vs. conservative media bias and ideology obscured the more fundamental point: The book misrepresented the science.

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Harvard Press Was Right to Reject "The Case for Marriage"

A decade ago, Stanley Kurtz kicked off his own personal whinefest against that awful liberal media by taking on Harvard University Press in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Harvard Press, he railed, had rejected a book called "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially," which he described as "packed with scholarly evidence" and written "clearly and calmly." (The book was published by Doubleday.)

Over time, Kurtz got even more psyched about The Case for Marriage, calling it "a model of calm and cogent argumentation, backed up by carefully sifted facts" in the National Review in February of 2001, then "a lively, rigorous, path-breaking study of the advantages of marriage" on the same pages in November of 2001.

I'll give him this: The facts were carefully sifted. They were sifted so that those most favorable to Waite and Gallagher's case would make it into the book, and others would be sifted some more to make them seem to fit the case the authors were trying to build.

When I was doing the research for my book, Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, I did something that I suspect that none of Harvard's reviewers, nor Doubleday's, did. Stanley Kurtz didn't either. I read the original journal articles that were cited, and checked them against the claims made in Waite and Gallagher's book. I read the relevant sections of their book line by line, and even scrutinized the claims slipped into the footnotes.

Kurtz scoffed at the person at Harvard Press who told a Crimson reporter that The Case for Marriage "was second rate and not worth publishing." I have news for Stanley Kurtz, the student reporter, and everyone else: The Case for Marriage was second rate and not worth publishing.

This is important, because The Case for Marriage continues to be cited uncritically, not just by the right-wing and the marriage movement, but even in academic publications, by people who should know better.

[In the rest of the post, I describe the ways in which the authors were not even-handed in making their case for marriage. I also review what the evidence really does show about the implications of getting married for getting sex, getting happy and healthy, getting to live longer, and getting to have more successful kids (already familiar to many Living Single readers).]

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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