OPINION: The protective impact of ‘I do’: Marital relationships as a crime prevention measure

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Dr. Patrick Webb

By Patrick Webb, Ph.D. 

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

With an increasing number of crimes, it is not surprising that crime prevention has resurfaced as a topic of interest. As the public becomes more informed, the question of what works has been supplemented with questions of how effective and at what expense. 

Surprisingly, effective crime prevention measures do not necessarily require a surplus of economic and government resources. In fact, reducing this inevitable reality of social interaction may include a commitment to the institution of marriage. 

Since the early 1990s, marriage as a crime prevention approach has been examined. Most studies reveal a reduction, and in some cases, an elimination of deviant/criminal behaviors. The institution of marriage has been studied and has demonstrated favorable outcomes in the following countries:

1. United States

2. Netherlands

3. United Kingdom

4. Finland

5. Norway

This process of positive change (also known as the marriage effect) takes place due to a number of psychological and sociological dimensions. This includes, but is not limited to, the development of the individual and the influence of the social bond.  

Individual Development – 

Maturity/Psychological Growth

Among couples, the individual dimension points to the expectation, increase, and value of maturity; which ultimately benefits each individual partner and their relationship. With respect to crime/deviance, numerous studies consistently demonstrate that age is inversely associated with anti-social behavior. In other words, as age increases, the likelihood of crime/deviance decreases. From this perspective, along with age, marriage may act as a type of incentive for mature behavior.  

Due to the number of roles, activities, and complexities within a marriage, couples also experience enhanced levels of cognitive (i.e., psychological) processes which are associated with positive health outcomes. This is supported by research which indicates that married couples (compared to their unmarried counterparts) are more likely to experience both longevity and greater levels of joy. Overall, marriage simultaneously prevents offensive behavior while promoting both individual and relationship-based fulfillment.  

Development of Social Bond – Risk/Reward 

Among married couples, social bonds appear to shape both identities and behavior. For instance, studies indicate that males have admitted that they avoided deviant/criminal behavior due to their marriage relationship. Specifically, they indicated that they were not willing to risk losing the amount of effort, time, and expenses because of their relationship with wives as well as others (e.g., children, extended family, etc.). 

Marriage also has the capacity to influence social interaction and relationship decisions. This includes less exposure to individuals and settings where deviant/criminal behavior is likely to occur. Studies point to this outcome due to more time spent engaging in family responsibilities (i.e., employment, etc.) and less time spent with peers and/or those who are not married. 

Despite the benefits of marriage, statistics reveal that divorce has increased in the United States. Given this downward trend, it might be prudent to consider legislative incentives that encourage marriage. 

Overall, the anecdote to crime may not always require novelty or the most advanced level technological resources. As indicated by a familiar adage, the discovery of progress might be in our rear-view mirror. 

Publisher’s Note: Dr. Patrick Webb is a professor at North Carolina A&T State University, and a member of the Black Criminologists Forum (BCF). BCF is a national association of nearly 70 Black scholars holding a doctorate degree in criminology, criminal justice, juvenile justice, or a related field of study.

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OPINION: The protective impact of ‘I do’: Marital relationships as a crime prevention measure

By Jackson Advocate News Service
July 10, 2023