It has been known for a long time that married men, when compared to single ones, are more responsible, work more, make more money, are less aggressive and are less likely to get involved in something illegal. However, it remained unclear whether it is the marriage itself that is responsible for turning antisocial men into well-behaved husbands, or whether fewer antisocial men get married. The answer, according to a Michigan State University study, appears to be both.
In particular, the team of investigators led by S. Alexandra Burt, a behavioral geneticist and associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, found that men who are more antisocial - defined as behaving aggressively, expressing little remorse, being irresponsible and not caring about the rights of other people - are less likely to get married, while their counterparts who are less antisocial are more likely to tie the knot. The new findings show that the reduced rate of antisocial behavior in married male individuals is more complex than previously thought, said Burt. In general, she added, marriage is good for men, at least when it comes to reducing antisocial behavior, but the results also found that it is not just some random men who decide to get married.
The study, which is the first to look at the effects of marriage on antisocial behavior, involved nearly 300 pairs of male twins from the Minnesota Twin Family Study. Burt and her team decided to analyze the twins so that two genetically identical men could be compared, thereby teasing apart biological and environmental factors. In other words, researchers wanted to use the unmarried co-twin of a married twin in order to have an idea what the married twin would have looked like in case he never married.
All the participants underwent assessment four times, at ages seventeen, twenty, twenty-four and twenty-nine. None of the men were married at the age of 17 years, and 2.6 per cent were married by the time they turned 20 years old. By the age of 29 years, 58.8 per cent of all the participants were or had been married. According to the researchers, men who demonstrated lower levels of antisocial behavior when they were 17 and 20 years old were more likely to get married by age 29.
Once the men tied the knot, rates of antisocial behavior decreased even more. The authors pointed out that, when comparing identical twin brothers in which one brother got married while the other did not, married twins were generally found to be involved in fewer episodes of antisocial behavior. In Burt's opinion, it is unlikely that marriage influences men's antisocial behavior directly, but rather that marriage encourages social bonding and reduces the time spent with bachelor peers and colleagues. Another very important factor that should be taken into consideration is a quality of marriage - in happy matrimonial units the effect of marriage on antisocial behavior is even stronger.
The results of the study are published in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.