Fishermen watch a newly married couple kiss on a bank of the Yenisei River.
“Marriage is nature’s way of keeping us from fighting with strangers,” the American stand-up comedian Alan King once said. Now psychologists have found that his quip bears the hallmark of truth.
They found that marriage actively makes men nicer – or at least less likely to indulge in antisocial activities.
Psychologists at Michigan State University in the US discovered that those who married tended to have notched up fewer antisocial incidents by the time they were 29 – such as criminal behaviour, being aggressive and binge drinking – than those who remained bachelors.
However, the academics argued this could have just been because nicer men tended to be the ones who married.
But when they looked at how the identical twins behaved over the course of the 12-year study period, they found marriage did have an active effect.
Once one twin married, his antisocial behaviour tailed off rapidly. The bad behaviour of his bachelor brother continued unabated.
Writing in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, Associate Professor S. Alexandra Burt concluded that married men “are just not as antisocial to begin with. And when they get married, they get even less antisocial”.
The academics followed the men from the age of 17, when almost all were single, to 29, when 60 per cent were married.
Commenting on the study, Ryan King, associate professor of law and criminology at Albany University in New York speculated that married men had “more to lose” by behaving badly.
He said it also reduced the amount of time men spent hanging out in large groups, which tended to lead to antisocial behaviour more than time with one’s wife and children.
Kate Figes, the author of relationship books including Couples and Life After Children, was more sympathetic.
She said: “Marriage, or any committed relationship, is good for us. It socialises us.
“In marriage, you’ve got someone who is calling you up short, teaching you to be nicer.
“If you have someone who supports you through thick and think, you tend to be less brittle.”