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Keep to the Old Roads: A review of Brad Wilcox’s Get Married

June 18, 2024
By Shane Morris

Editor’s Note: The following book review appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

In his 2012 song, You’ll Find Your Way, Andrew Peterson urges his son to “keep to the old roads.” It’s profound advice for faith and life in a time when so many in our culture are attempting to blaze new trails. From sexuality and gender to spirituality and family, modern people seem intent on rejecting the “life scripts” that guided previous generations, and are instead opting for new identities, values, beliefs, and approaches to love.

Marriage, in particular, has fallen on hard times. Many are convinced it no longer works, is outdated, or won’t serve their interests. In Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox argues from the data that this widespread rejection of marriage has been a mistake. He thinks the “old road” of matrimony is not only still viable, but is the most dependable route to happiness, prosperity, lasting love, and a meaningful life. He also suggests the reason millions have given up on marriage is that our elites, influencers, and pop culture tastemakers have lied to us about it for fifty years.

The closing of the American heart

It started with what Wilcox calls “the Me Decade,” a time when Americans shifted their priorities from family and community to chasing their own gratification: “The promise held out in the 1970s was that casting aside the values and virtues of an older era and focusing on your own needs, your own desires, and your own projects would bring you happiness.” (xvii). This was when divorce began to skyrocket,[1] abortion became legal nationwide, the Pill was introduced, and out-of-wedlock births began the process of more than doubling.[2]

Today, the heedless hedonism of the Baby Boomers, taken up by their adult children, has soured into record loneliness, singleness, childlessness, and depression. You’d think we’d finally question the anti-marriage philosophy that got us here. But a new generation of opinion-makers is doubling down on anti-marriage rhetoric. Wilcox points to social media influencers on the “red-pilled” right like Andrew Tate and Pearl Davis, and feminist journalists on the left like Molly Smith, all of whom argue that marriage is not only obsolete, but is a kind of “death sentence” for professionally and financially ambitious men and women (ix-x). We’re all better off without the ring, both sides seem to agree.

Their message has sunk in. The US marriage rate is hovering around an all-time low, (8) and single, childless adults have eclipsed the population of married adults with children for the first time in American history (12). This widespread abandonment of the family life-script is close to the new normal for millennials and generation Z. Wilcox describes it as “the closing of the American heart” — an unprecedented generational surrender to the forces driving us apart and keeping us from forming families.

The irony and tragedy is that the anti-marriage messages are mostly lies, and getting hitched is still a statistically reliable road to a prosperous and happy life. Wilcox marshals an impressive battery of social science, drawn largely from his work with Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies, and interspersed with illustrative real-life stories to show that “get married” is still fundamentally sound advice.

The truth about marriage, by the numbers

Modern discourse on marriage runs largely on anecdotes and “vibes,” which tend to select for horror stories and grievances. But a look at hard data shows that marriage is still an unbeatably good deal for most people.

For starters, half of marriages do not end in divorce. As of 2021, divorce rates had fallen by 40 percent, to below where they were in 1970 (6). And notwithstanding “red-pill” personalities who describe marriage as suicidal for men due to the danger of women taking their children and half their money, it turns out stably married men in their fifties have over 30 times the assets of never married men, and even divorced and remarried men come out well ahead of the lone wolves (42).

It turns out the idea that marriage is miserable or stifling is propaganda, too. Wilcox shows that married people are, on average, the happiest folks around. They’re certainly in a better mood than their unmarried peers, with married men 20 percent more likely than single men to describe themselves as “very happy,” and married women 16 percent more likely (51). Married parents are also 15 percent less likely than single, childless people to describe themselves as “lonely most or all of the time” (49). And it turns out marriage is associated more closely with happiness than a college degree, a higher income, or a good job. In fact, having a satisfying marriage is 400 percent more likely to predict happiness than having a satisfying job is (4).

One clue that we’ve been misled about this is how many of the very people spreading progressive, post-family propaganda live surprisingly traditional lives. This is a major point in the book. Even as our elites have pushed ideas that “demean marriage, cast aside the normative guardrails that forge strong families,” and “passed laws that penalize marriage for the poor and working class…” they have “figured out ways to protect their own families…” (xx).One of those has been by shepherding their children through the so-called “success sequence” of graduating high school, staying employed, and not having children of their own before marriage, all while a growing share of Americans fail at all three. In public, the elites “talk left,” promoting sexual liberation and all kinds of novel family arrangements, but at home they tend to “walk right,” following prudent patterns that conduce to upper middle-class life. This is part of how they stay elite!

It turns out the diverse lifestyles and family forms promoted by the ruling class do the exact opposite of what we’re told. Wilcox punctures myths about the wonders of “flying solo” in life, the idea that “love and money, not marriage, make a family,” and the notion that the key to marital bliss is finding one’s “soulmate.” All of these, he argues, are not only demonstrably false, but have hurt us as a society and left us far lonelier, less hopeful, and less capable of forming stable, fulfilling relationships.

This is one case where the world as seen through social media, entertainment, or even the opinion sections of major newspapers bears little resemblance to the real world. Marriage truly is the gold standard for lasting happiness and wellbeing, and to the extent that we believe some other new arrangement is preferable, we’ve been duped.

The condition for unconditional love

Behind the scientific objectivity of Get Married is a moral lesson Wilcox occasionally makes explicit: that human beings were not made to live for ourselves, and the surest route to being happy on our death beds is to value permanent relationships over career, money, and self-expression. It just so happens God built such a relationship into the fabric of human nature, and those who live in light of this fact, unsurprisingly, do better on average than those trying to re-create human nature.

Wilcox refers to marriage as a “keystone institution” because of the way it tends to make many other aspects of life and society fall into place. It binds men to the children they father. It stabilizes fickle romantic relationships between adults, and channels sexuality — which is normally so disruptive — toward the creation and care of new people. It builds households and neighborhoods instead of revolving doors for transient singles. And it classically foregrounds a vow as the basis for love, rather than the other way around.

This last tendency is crucial, and part of why the message behind this arsenal of pro-marriage statistics is so timely. As Jordan Peterson says, marriage is (or should) amount to a promise that “no matter what you tell me, I won’t run away.”[3] In other words, marriage creates the condition for unconditional love. It moves people beyond the “trial period” in a relationship by decisively and permanently defining the relationship and (ideally) cutting off all possibility of retreat. It sounds crass to modern ears, but as Wilcox joked in our interview on the Upstream podcast, there was a reason Roman generals burned the bridges behind their advancing armies: being “all in” changes the dynamics of both love and war![4]

We can see this play out in the lives of Wilcox’s “masters of marriage — those segments of the population disproportionately getting and staying married. Regular churchgoers, Asian Americans, and college-educated, higher-income Americans are all (often for different reasons) walking the “old road” of family formation, which depends on permanence and unconditional devotion. Such couples agree that marriage is for life (143) and embrace a “we before me” mentality about their relationship (103). They tend to prioritize the practical duties of life together over intense emotional connection, (92) often embody traditionally masculine and feminine traits, (156) and notably tend to view children as a core purpose of their marriage (121).

Religious observance, especially, turns out to be a powerful predictor of successful marriage (224–25). The mutually-reinforcing “double helix” connecting family with faith is something authors have written about for years (see, for instance, Mary Eberstadt’s How the West Really Lost God). But Wilcox reveals surprising ways active religious faith promotes happiness within marriage. For instance, couples who shared the same faith reported more frequent and better sex (188) and greater overall marital happiness and life satisfaction (176–77). In our discussion, he speculated that this has to do with the trust engendered between spouses by transcendent vows and a believing community that reinforces them.

I’ve seen the power of this unconditional vow and mutual commitment to God play out in my own marriage. During the darkest days of the last thirteen years, it was not simply feelings or a desire for a “soulmate” that kept Gabriela and me together, but the conviction that our union was the work and will of a higher power. The inventor of marriage knows better than any of us how difficult love can be, and perhaps if we could foresee all He sees, no one would ever get married. But that’s the genius of the “old roads.” In many ways, they embody a wisdom beyond our self-insight, shaping us toward ends we were too foolish to pursue when we began. If we honor these time-worn paths, they will teach us and shape us until, at the end, we find we are different people. As Andrew Peterson writes in another song about marriage that echoes the words of Christ (Matt 16:24–26), maybe “the only way to find your life is to lay your whole life down.”[5]

Get Married is a powerful antidote to decades of anti-marriage propaganda and the pervasive modern cynicism about the most important institution of human society. Brad Wilcox has provided a “one stop shop” for those interested in learning and making the case that, despite what you may have heard, marriage is still good and good for us. But he has also given us an understated reminder that the “old roads” are wiser than we are, and that the thing so many in today’s world are searching for — love — may be right where we left it.

Shane Morris is a senior writer at the Colson Center and host of the Upstream podcast.

[1] “Divorce, More Than a Century of Change, 1900-2018,” Valerie Schweizer, Bowling Green State University, November 22, 2020, Accessed May 28, 2024,

[2] “How We Ended Up With 40 Percent of Children Born Out of Wedlock,” Robert VerBruggen, Institute for Family Studies, December 18, 2017, Accessed May 28, 2024,

[3] Quoted from this TikTok clip of Jordan Peterson, posted by ImpulseMan, Accessed 5/28/24:

[4] “Defy the Elites, Get Married,” Upstream, March 19. 2024:

[5] Andrew Peterson, “Dancing in the Mine Fields,” YouTube:

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