A viral TikTok video doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the so-called negatives of marriage and motherhood for young women.
The video, that has been racking up millions of views, shows a Generation Z woman seeming to accept a marriage proposal before switching to a series of shorts showing the same woman toiling away in domestic drudgery — washing dishes, caring for a newborn baby, and cleaning the house. The clip ends with the woman rejecting the proposal, daunted by the future life of domestic servitude that just flashed before her eyes.
This is simply one addition to a long line of recent memes that deride marriage and motherhood, a trend that plays into a popular narrative. But is all this negative coverage of marriage and motherhood — primarily emanating from academics, journalists, and online influencers — an accurate reflection of reality?
The answer is no. The truths about marriage and motherhood couldn’t be clearer, or more counter-cultural: married women with children are actually happier than their single and childless counterparts, despite the prevailing narrative to the contrary. Drawing on data from America’s premier social barometer, the 2022 General Social Survey, 40% of married women between the ages of 18 and 55 with children report being “very happy” with their lives, compared to 22% of unmarried women with no children and 17% of single mothers.
What’s more, women with children are better off financially than their childless peers. According to data from the US Census’s American Community Survey, married mothers (18-55) have an average household income of $133,000, compared to $79,000 for their childless, single peers.
We also have new research, which finds that marriage is “the most important differentiator” of who is happy in America. Falling marriage rates, meanwhile, are a chief reason why happiness has declined nationally, according to this study.
All of this runs counter to the cultural messaging that is decidedly anti-nuptial and anti-natalist. But the data tells us that married people are happier and more prosperous than their unmarried counterparts. That’s because marriage and family life provide meaning and direction for both men and women, not to mention a sense of solidarity.
Young people deserve to know the truth. A future that includes marriage and children is, on balance, a happier one. It turns out that building a life around your family is linked to dramatically higher rates of happiness for men and women. The idea that the best pathway to happiness in life is to avoid exchanging vows or the baby carriage is a myth persistently championed by many cultural voices — including this latest viral TikTok influencer — but one unfounded in the data.
W. Bradford Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.