Marriage makes America happier, healthier, wealthier, says alumna Amy Wax

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Amy Wax

It’s no secret that in the past few decades there have been major changes in the way our culture views sex and sexuality,” said Amy Wax ’75, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, as she opened her lecture at Yale on Oct. 26.

Wax, a guest of Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. program, delivered a talk on “What Is Happening to the Family and Why?” Her research addresses issues in social welfare law and policy as well as the relationship of the family, the workplace, and labor markets.

In August, Wax and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled, “Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.” The column stirred controversy, and in this talk, Wax expanded upon her contentious premise that an erosion of “bourgeois values,” including a decline in marriage and childrearing norms, explain today’s social and economic ills.

Marriage has been a dominant, organizing institution in Western societies for millennia,” said Wax. “It has stood at the center of social life, but it is on the wane.” (This talk, she noted, would focus only on heterosexual marriage.) Citing the work of University of Texas-Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus, Wax noted that since 2000, the percentage of men still unmarried after age 34 has climbed from 34% to 53%.

Wax blamed the “Sexual Revolution” and liberalization of social norms associated with the 1960s with many of the problems Americans experience today, including unemployment, drug addiction, and poverty.

The divergence we see in behavior now — mostly by class but also by race — is the product of a pronounced moral deregulation that took place in the sexual realm in the 60s,” said Wax. “Pre-1960s, there was a uniform and rather strict code of conduct guiding behavior for sexuality and family. This definitely limited people’s freedom, but it also reduced the need for individual, case-by-case judgments.”

Wax cited research by Charles Murray, co-author of the 1994 book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” which has been criticized for its assertions about intelligence and race. Wax cited Murray’s more recent work, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” in support of her arguments about the benefits of marriage.

In the past, Wax has elicited criticism for her comments about same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and the “superiority” of Anglo-Protestant cultural norms, among other topics.

Wax concluded her talk at Yale by painting a bleak picture of a country populated by men who are either unwilling or unable to commit to marriage. She left the audience with a final charge: “to consider how to mitigate and moderate some of these negative trends we currently observe.”

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