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Sociologist: Anti-family messages in academia need to change

Academia should promote family life in the face of a declining interest in marriage, according to University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox

His new book “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization” delves into these themes.

Many college students want families, but achieving that goal is harder than it used to be, Wilcox told The College Fix recently.

“On the one hand, college students still aim to date and get married. But on the other, there are many more obstacles in the path to the altar than there once were,” the sociologist told The Fix via email.

Wilcox (pictured) said his book describes the situation as the “closing of the American heart” – “where young men and women are finding it harder to date, mate, marry and have children.”

He outlined four of the biggest obstacles for young adults today, one being the rise of smartphones coupled with a drop in in-person socialization and dating.

Wilcox pointed The Fix to a 2017 Atlantic article by San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge about how young adults now feel more “comfortable online than out partying.” Twenge, a psychologist, linked the change to the growing mental health problems among young adults.

Another obstacle is young adults and “their parents often prioritize education and work over dating and marriage,” Wilcox said, pointing to recent Pew Research Center polling.

“Third, there is growing ideological polarization, with women moving Left and some men moving Right,” he told The Fix.

Wilcox and economist Lyman Stone wrote about the problem in a 2023 Atlantic article, explaining how more people are using their political party affiliation as an immediate criterion for choosing a partner.

“Finally, many women I speak with say that there are not enough mature, commitment-oriented men in their social circles to date,” Wilcox told The Fix.

But academia also plays a role in the problem, he said.

“They send lots of messages underlining the value of more education and a great career but almost nothing about the importance of love and marriage,” Wilcox told The Fix. “I call this the ‘Midas Mindset’ in action, where all the focus is on education, money, and especially work and very little focus on helping prepare college students for a good family future.”

During a recent speech at Brigham Young University, Wilcox said the idea basically is that “relationships and love are risks and you always have your career and success to fall back on.”

His book presents counterdata that shows a strong correlation between marriage and happiness. “The odds of being very happy … with life increase by 545% for those in a good marriage,” he said.

Wilcox told The Fix that academic leaders could help young adults see the value of marriage and family by being more open about their own family lives.

“Many professors and administrators are happily married! Talk about it,” he said. “Tell the students how you did it. Invite students to a family dinner. And sponsor classes that teach the basics about love and marriage. These steps would help make it easier for college students to date and later get married.”

MORE: More students would give up having children than cellphones to help climate: poll

IMAGE: University of Virginia/Harper Collins

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Colleen Dean is an graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, currently pursuing an M.A. in Catholic Studies. She received her undergrad degree from Franciscan in political science with two minors in Spanish and human life studies. She has also written for Lone Conservative.