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Marriage benefits men by giving them positive identity, book asserts
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The University chapel, where many couples get married.Marriage benefits men by giving them positive identity, book asserts

By Ida Lee Wootten

Think again, wild and crazy bachelors. Marriage improves men. They have better jobs, work more, give to charity and attend church more frequently, says sociology professor Steven L. Nock in his award-winning book, Marriage in Men's Lives.

As impressive as these findings are, the book goes one step further. It attempts to answer the baffling question "why?"

Drawing on a national database of 6,000 men who were interviewed yearly since 1979, Nock says marriage positively changes men because it allows their masculinity to develop and thrive and leads people to trust and respect them. The book recently received the 1999 William J. Goode Book Award from the American Sociological Association in recognition of its significant contribution to understanding family relations.

ock asserts that marriage contributes to and enhances males' images of themselves and their masculinity, driving them to be more successful, more generous and more concerned about the welfare of others. He found that marriage with its expectations, rules and customs gives husbands a way to fulfill traditional roles as fathers, providers and protectors.

Public opinion, the law and religion clearly define the standards of what a good marriage should be, Nock says. Married men are assumed to be mature, productive and faithful providers for their wives and children.

Because these standards are so widely known, men can easily determine if they are good husbands. In meeting those expectations, men come to see themselves as good providers, which reinforces their sense of masculinity.

"Marriage changes men because it is the vehicle by which adult masculinity is developed and sustained," Nock said.

The more closely a man's marriage conforms to the norm, the greater are his work accomplishments and involvements in community organizations, Nock found. Shifts in married relationships, such as decreases in the couple's reliance on others or having children, lead to significantly higher levels of achievement among men.

"The research shows that marriage increases men's achievements as reflected in earnings, labor force commitment and occupational prestige," Nock said.

He asserts that marriage not only leads men to work and earn more, it also prompts them to participate in social functions and engage in philanthropy because such behaviors are expected of adult males.

"Marriage does not appear to add or subtract to the total amount of time husbands spend with others so much as it reorganizes the total amount of contact men have with other people," said Nock, who researches the causes and consequences of change in the American family.

Nock studied interviews with men before and after they were married to see how their lives changed over the years. He found that marriage brought predictable changes. Married men saw less of their friends, went to bars less often and dropped memberships in such unstructured organizations as health and hobby clubs. They were more likely to engage in functions with clear expectations, such as church.

"Men in modern society crave well-being, comfort, luxury and prestige, and marriage affords a means of achieving those things within circumscribed legitimate boundaries," Nock said.

Surprisingly, remarriage had the opposite effects, Nock found. "Without the formal and informal rules that exist for first marriages, remarriages produce fewer benefits for men," he said. The sociologist believes that men feel less compelled to fulfill roles as good providers and fathers because there are fewer assumptions or standards about remarried life.

Divorce has strong negative consequences for men, Nock found. It reduces men's commitment to work, which lowers their occupational prestige, he says.


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