Want to be a nicer person? If you're a man, then shacking up may help. A new study is lending credence to the idea that marriage helps combat antisocial behavior.
Earlier research has found evidence that tying the knot can make men less aggressive and even less likely to engage in criminal activity. But it wasn't clear whether antisocial men were simply more likely to remain single, or whether marriage actually makes them into nicer people.
Both reasons may apply, according to a study published this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
S. Alexandra Burt, a behavioral geneticist at Michigan State University and the study's lead researcher, examined 289 pairs of male twins to find out how they would differ if one of the twins got married, and the other remained single.
"The married men engaged in lower levels of antisocial behavior at all ages," which suggests that they were less antisocial people to begin with, Burt concluded.
"But once they got married it seemed like the behaviors go down even more," meaning that something about their marriage likely made them become "nicer," she said in an interview.
Researchers examined the twins at age 17, 20, 24 and 29. They found that those who were less aggressive or more likely to consider the well-being of others at age 17 and age 20 had a better chance of getting married by age 29.
Once married, they became even less likely to do something antisocial, like get into a brawl, compared to their single twin brothers.
The study didn't examine why it is that antisocial men are more likely to stay single, or why married men may become more responsible and laid-back.
But the findings raise some interesting questions, Burt says. "I can imagine if you're a guy who really likes to get in fights and steal things, marriage may not look all that attractive to you," she said. "On the other hand, it could be that if you're a woman looking to get married, the kind of guy that gets in fights and steals things doesn't look as attractive as a marital partner either. So it's hard to know who's doing the selecting."
It may also be that "when men are with their wives, they're just less likely to go out and do some of the stuff that they might do with their rowdy friends," she said.
Or perhaps marriage teaches men to better relate to others.
"Through getting married they're just learning better how to bond with people. Since antisocial behavior is really about disregarding the rights of others, they're less likely to do that," Burt said.
And once men get married, she added, "they also have more to lose."
This study clearly involved only marriages between heterosexual men and women. I would like to see the study replicated to see whether the results hold true in same-sex unions between men. I would expect the results to be exactly the same!
— The Curator