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Social Science Is Unimpressive

So why not just stay single? Because, academically speaking, a solid marriage has a host of benefits beyond just individual "happiness." There are broader social and health implications as well. According to a 2004 paper titled "What Do Social Scientists Know About the Benefits of Marriage?," marriage is positively associated with "better outcomes for children under most circumstances" and higher earnings for adult men, and "being married and being in a satisfying marriage are positively associated with health and negatively associated with mortality." In other words, a good marriage is associated with a higher income, a longer, healthier life and better-adjusted kids.

A word of caution, though: As with any social scientific study, it's important not to confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because married folks are healthier than single people, it doesn't mean that marriage is causing the health gains. It could just be that healthier people are more likely to be married.
In English he just said:

1) I advise you to get married. Studies show it's a good idea.

2) But actually, bear in mind the studies didn't show anything of the sort. They could mean getting married will help, or they could mean it won't help. They are also consistent with it hurting.

Why would he say (1) if he seriously meant (2)?

Social scientists, in a sense, know their studies are mostly worthless, but in another sense refuse to know it and are in denial. Sometimes they use the excuse, "it was the best we could do!" as if that made the results truer.

Imagine a physicist using a grain of sand instead of a single atom and saying, "Sorry, it was the best I had available. My results should still be pretty accurate, right?"

Social scientists know they don't control for a lot of factors in their studies. They know lots of ways their results could be wrong. But because they don't know how to fix it, or can't afford to do things better, they hope and pray that it will be pretty accurate anyway.

Elliot Temple on February 9, 2009


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