As a recent editorial in the Daily Telegraph puts it:
... children raised in stable two-parent families have demonstrably better outcomes in terms of mental and physical health, educational attainment and the likelihood of leading law-abiding lives than those who are not, and secondly that married couples are twice as likely to remain together as co-habiting ones. So the importance of marriage as a means for rearing healthy, well-adjusted, and successfully functioning children is beyond argument.
But the contribution that marriage makes to social life does not end with the intensive period of raising a young family. When a couple marry, they are not simply legalising their sexual relationship – a step which few couples might think necessary given the relaxed mores of contemporary society. They are making a public declaration of their commitment to one another which joins their two families. It is the interconnecting network of all those conjoined families that constitutes a community. Marriage is not simply a testament to the present feelings of a man and a woman but to their readiness to accept responsibility for the future. So the stability of a long-standing marriage can offer emotional security not only to the first generation of children it produces, but to grandchildren, extended family and friends.
Fortunately, married family life is still the ambition of the overwhelming majority of young adults around the world. Some 69% of American adults in a recent poll (pdf) agreed that 'marriage is the eventual purpose of a relationship, providing stability and security'. I expect that the current global crisis will cause many to re-evaluate their values in relation to marriage and family life - just as they are re-evaluating their values in relation to money and economic success.
That said, it would be naive to argue - as a ridiculous few do - that recessions are somehow 'good for the soul'. I think Tom Keane puts it well:
I would dare say the critics damning rampant consumerism would not level the critique at themselves. It's always everyone else they deem crass and shallow, yet I have no idea who those people really are. Up until the market crash, for example, charities were predicting the largest infusion of giving ever from the high-income baby boom generation. That's hardly selfish. Yes, people with extra cash like to buy things, but they also spend more on education and other opportunities for their kids. Again, that's not selfish.
Economic growth is good for families: not only does in provide more resources for parents and children, it opens up greater choices for those able to make them. But on St Valentine's Day I don't want to reduce married life to mere economics. Today after all is a day synonymous with love, sex, romance, sex, courtship and, er, sex ... So it is some relief to learn from the same US survey mentioned above that nearly half of all respondents (46%) say that sex takes their minds of worries such as the recession. And it is well known that the physical and mental health benefits of sex tend to help people cope more effectively with stress.
Add to that the finding that married men report happier sex lives than single men and you get to see how 'promoting marriage' might not be so difficult a task as it sometimes seems. Happy Valentines.