Why Married Men Are Less Antisocial

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A good marriage civilizes men. At least, that’s what it looks like, since fewer married men are antisocial. Married men are more responsible, less aggressive, less likely to do something illegal and more mentally healthy than single ones. This has been documented in a bunch of studies and chronicled in such great works of art as Jane Eyre and Failure To Launch. But it’s never been clear whether it’s the marriage that makes men antisocial or whether fewer antisocial men get married.

A new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests it’s both. S. Alexandra Burt, a behavioral geneticist at Michigan State University, looked at 289 genetically identical male twins to ascertain what difference getting hitched made to these otherwise very similar men. (More on Photos: Love and Marriage in Prime Time)

“Our results indicate that the reduced rate of antisocial behavior in married men is more complicated than we previously thought,” said Burt. “Marriage is generally good for men, at least in terms of reducing antisocial behavior, but the data also indicates that it’s not random who enters into the state of marriage.” (More on Marriage, What’s It Good For?)

The study, which looked at the twins when they were 17, 20, 24 and 29, found that men who had fewer antisocial behaviors at 17 and 20 were more often married by 29. Once the men had gotten hitched, their antisocial activities decreased even more. That is, the married twin was less likely to be doing something obnoxious than the unmarried twin.

So it’s chicken and egg: men who are less antisocial get married and then become even more civilized after they get a wife. (More on Were You Born This (Un)Happy, or Did You Marry Into It?)

Of course, Burt acknowledges, this may not be the marriage talking. It may be that a guy who has a wife doesn’t hang out with his ne’er-do-well friends so much or that he’s learned, by dating, to bond better. Or that he knows that if he drives drunk/gets in a fight/gets arrested again and manages to escape unscathed, his wife will kill him. Which leads to a different question, how much is the fact that we are getting married later contributing to, or a factor of, our prolonged adolescence?

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