What is the purpose of marriage?

While we’ve been married a modest 7 years, we have spent that time researching relationship health and psychology, as well as interviewing hundreds of couples over the years to understand not just what is the purpose of marriage, but how to have the best chances of making it successful.

Most of the articles we see online are faith-based when answering this question.

For us as two engineers, we wanted to look at the data, science, and history to get a new, non-religious perspective on what is the purpose of marriage, both in the past and how it’s changed into what it is today.

What is the purpose of marriage - ryan and alex duo life

What Is the Purpose of marriage In The Past vs. Present

What is the point of marriage? Is marriage necessary in life?

This is a topic that we’ve wanted to breach for a long time. We’ve been asked it before, but the question is so personal that we didn’t know where to start.

While we could be biased (we are married after all), we have many friends who are single parents, divorcees, or widowers who don’t quite fit the traditional mold of marriage — let alone marginalized groups across the globe who are denied marriage.

So, we want to share what the data points to as the purpose of marriage without inserting too much opinion into it and wishing everyone the best.
Because the reality is that the world is changing.

Almost ​90% of the world’s population​ now live in countries with falling marriage rates. And ​35% of children​ are living with an unmarried but cohabiting parent.

So has marriage become obsolete? And if not, why is marriage so important?
Historically when you think of marriage, it was viewed more as an alliance or a source of security.

We read a great perspective and history on the original purpose of marriage in Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance.

Ansari’s research found that back in the day, the purpose of marriage was more for procreation and security, almost exclusively. For other things like emotional support, childcare help, and socialization, it truly takes a village and wasn’t necessarily required from just one person.

What Is the Meaning of Marriage?

When you look up the word “marriage” in the dictionary, you’ll see something along the lines of a formal and ideally consensual union recognized by law.

Of course, every religion and culture has a different meaning because as you dig into it, you’ll see that not every marriage is the “same.” There are common law marriages, marriages of convenience, arranged marriages, polygamous marriages, open marriages… and the list goes on and on.

Every relationship and marriage is unique, no matter how “traditional” or not it is. So asking “what is the purpose of marriage?” is an important discussion to not just ask your partner, but to think about on your own as well.

What is The Purpose of Marriage Today?

This is different from today when many people expect to receive everything from their spouses: financial support, meeting emotional and social needs, etc.

Some argue that expecting so much from one person isn’t sustainable or entirely healthy. This is what your support network of friends, family, and colleagues is for.

So, in the modern day, has marriage gone obsolete? Is it better to stay in an unwed partnership, potentially save on taxes, and call it a day?

Let’s take a look at it from a few different angles because the data still shows that, statistically, marriage is important for several reasons, including your mental health, the health of your children, and even longevity.

With one caveat: as long as your spouse is a good one. If they’re not, or if they’re sometimes good and sometimes bad, the data shows that your health and happiness can be negatively impacted.

What Are the 5 Purposes of marriage?

Before we begin, we want to say one thing: this is what, generally across wide populations, the data shows.

Of course, if your situation is different, or you have unwed friends, they’re not doomed. It’s very situational, but let’s take a look at the research. Here are the five reasons why marriage is important:

1. A sense of commitment
2. Betters your health and longevity
3. Enhances happiness and personal growth
4. Increases security, comfort, and support
5. Helps promote healthier children

Next, we’ll take a deep dive into each.

Purpose of Marriage #1: A Sense of Commitment

This isn’t to say that non-married couples don’t hold a sense of commitment, but marriage is undisputably symbolic of long-term commitment.

Marriage Foundation research director Harry Benson puts marital commitment this way: you need dedication and constraints, in that order.

In his talk about why married couples seem to have better outcomes than cohabiting couples — in terms of staying together, avoiding poverty, and having children with better education and well-being outcomes — it is because adding the constraint of cohabitation sometimes happens before the full dedication to the future of an “us.”

If the dedication portion doesn’t happen, psychologists have found that couples might feel trapped by living together or having children before marriage.

This is why the psychology of marriage and commitment matters. Proposing is a strong act of dedication, and adding the constraint of marriage (again, constraints aren’t bad!) at the wedding, in front of all of your loved ones, is an incredibly powerful commitment device.

This is just one example of a purpose of marriage: marriage solidifies your commitment to the relationship, psychologically.

Purpose of Marriage #2: Betters Your Health and Longevity

Ever heard of the “marriage gap” or “marriage advantage?” These terms refer to the health and economic gaps seen between married and unmarried people.

The marriage gap persists even when controlling for access to healthcare, tax incentives for couples, age, gender, race, education, income, the presence of children, and the self-selection of healthy individuals who choose to marry other healthy individuals.

In terms of health, married couples tend to live longer than their unmarried counterparts, approximately two years more on average.

This longevity increase is associated with several factors that we’ll touch upon in this article, but various research papers point to:

Social Relationships

Social relationships, which absolutely include marriage, have been shown to reduce the risk of hypertension, suicide, depression, and heart disease.

Reduced Inflammation

Reducing loneliness reduces inflammation. A quality marriage, especially for women, is a marker for reduced inflammation which affects everything from autoimmune diseases to cancer.

Improved Longevity

Researchers speculate that marriage increases longevity by two years, on average, because spouses positively reinforce healthy behaviors in their partner.

This last point is something we see daily with our blog on couples health through the comments and emails. Studies predict that two-thirds of people worry more about their spouse’s health than their own. And these worries happen several times a week.

Given that our partners exert so much influence on us — from healthy eating to hobbies to happiness — it’s no wonder that a compelling byproduct or purpose of marriage is to capitalize on the health benefits to live a longer, healthier life.

Yet, the kicker is that this goes both ways. If you have an unhealthy marriage, your risk for hypertension and depression is higher than your single counterparts. So is your risk of dementia, and you can be far unhealthier than if you had remained single.

Purpose of Marriage #3: Enhances Happiness and Personal Growth

While some may argue that the person you marry should make you happy, Ryan and I feel stronger than no one can make you feel happy. Only you can do that — as long as your baselines of security, respect, and a quality marriage are covered.

So while studies do indeed show that marriage increases happiness, by an estimated 12-24% even when controlling for things like race, education, and gender, we also want to bring up that the purpose of marriage is for growth. Both personal growth and growth as a couple.

According to the University of Wyoming Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, marriage propels individual growth in ways harder to find when unmarried. In other words, marriage is constantly challenging you and your partner.

Continuously working on things like accepting responsibility, bettering communication, increasing empathy, learning how to navigate conflicts, and renewing commitment are at the forefront of a successful marriage.

This is in line with the view of Dr. Gottman, a leading relationship researcher, on what he calls a “good enough” marriage. This means keeping your high expectations of being treated with kindness and respect, but recognizing that conflict is a natural part of marriage that is, in a way, an opportunity to grow with each other.

Like any couple, Ryan and I have what we call our recurring arguments and sticking points. We learned how to grow past them by attending couples coaching sessions on a couples therapy app that we love and highly recommend called Hey Ritual (our full experience below).

Being in a marriage is a constant choice and a rewarding challenge, and if it ever feels overwhelming, don’t shy away from asking for help. Like seeing a personal trainer to better your physical health, consider the big impact your marriage has on your health, and consider a relationship coach.

Purpose of Marriage #4: Increases Security, Comfort, and Support

This answer is a tale as old as time for what is the purpose of marriage: security. Physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual support and security, just to name a few. But it still holds true.

Wikipedia has a fascinating article on the ‘Economics of Marriage,’ tracing a history back to hunter-gatherer societies where men would steal women. Thank goodness that’s all over with (we sincerely hope).

The page also shares some well-known facts, like the reality that married men tend to have 15% higher wages than unmarried men. Or how, at least in the US, there are tax incentives, social security benefits, and lower insurance costs for married couples that are unavailable to singles.

(There are a few situations where filing taxes jointly isn’t advantageous, but as a whole, most will benefit while filing jointly. This is especially true for couples with large income discrepancies. Your accountant can steer you in the right direction!)

So, while there can be economic benefits, choosing marriage for support and comfort in other areas is shown in the data as well.

Today, the “loneliness epidemic” is on the rise and has been since the pandemic. One out of 5 Americans now rate themselves as lonely or socially isolated, particularly among older Americans.

In a study specifically looking at how loneliness is affected by marital status, researchers found that both widowed and divorced groups showed higher levels of loneliness than their married counterparts.

In terms of health effects, the study cites how loneliness correlates to poorer health outcomes, like heart disease, cognitive decline, depression, and mortality.

Purpose of Marriage #5: Helps Promote Healthier Children

In a study put out by the American College of Pediatricians, they don’t mince words:

“Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.”

Except when there is “unresolvable marital violence,” children seem to fare better in a married family structure — even more so than the children of committed partners who aren’t married.

We repeat: violence is never ever acceptable.

One in four children are born to cohabiting, unmarried parents, and given that cohabiting is on the rise, how might it affect children?

It’s easy to find a lot of opinions on this, but none seem to control for differences like education, socioeconomic status, or the self-selection of healthy people who choose to marry healthy people.

This includes a popular article by the Institute for Family Studies who show data that children in cohabiting, unmarried relationships are at a higher risk of poverty, lack of resources, and worse health outcomes.

Given the rise of cohabiting parents, we’re not ready to jump to this conclusion. Mainly because not every cohabiting or single parent is the same. We have plenty of friends who chose to be parents because they want children no matter what, with or without a partner.

We like best how the Center for Law and Social Policy puts it, saying that the institution of marriage often provides a wonderful environment for children. This includes consistency, stability, and loving attention from immediate and extended family.

This, of course, can be the case with single or unmarried parents. On the flip side, an unhappy marriage can also negatively impact the children. I guess our point here, though, is as far as purposes go, having your marriage show children what a healthy relationship looks like is incredibly power and a wonderful purpose.

Closing thoughts on the 5 Reasons Why marriage Is Important

There’s no one answer for everyone about what is the purpose of marriage. But, we wanted to share powerful reasons that didn’t center on spirituality, but more on practicality and what the science says about it.

This includes actual purposes of marriage like having a sense of commitment, elevating health and longevity, enhancing growth, increasing support, and promoting healthier children. 

Even though we share many studies and research about each topic, ultimately, the purpose of marriage is an extremely personal choice and decision.

While we share some wonderful purposes with lasting health benefits, it all depends on the individual circumstances and quality of the marriage.

Amongst our research, many studies agree that you’re better off being single than in an unhappy or damaging relationship. These also can have bad health outcomes for you and the people around you, like your children.

As two relationship and wellness consultants, we see the value in marriage every day, with a multitude of purposes. A sense of belonging, having someone there to support you in times of need and vice versa, challenging you to become better, and knowing that there’s a “forever” future to plan and build together are a few of our purposes.

What about yours? We’d love to hear in the comments!

For more resources for couples, such as our ‘proven apps for married couples’ or our 1-day self-guided non-religious marriage retreat, head over to our Healthy Couples page.

Or, download our Proven Tools for Healthy Couples below.

At-Home Date Ideas Menu_Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Proven Tools for Healthy Couples

A decade of experience, hundreds of hours of research and testing, and over 50,000 words of wisdom condensed into one PDF.

Download our guide for the best books, movies, apps, date night ideas, quizzes, questions, and games for healthy couples.

As Seen In Feature Bar Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

Optimize Your Life, One Friday at a Time

Enter your name and email address to sign up for our free newsletter, the Duo Life Letter. Each Friday receive evidence-based tips to elevate your health and relationship.

Pin It on Pinterest