The Path to Happiness: Career or Marriage?

Credit…Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

To the Editor:

Re “Marriage, Not Career, Brings Happiness,” by David Brooks (column, Aug. 20):

Mr. Brooks’s advice that ambitious college graduates prioritize marriage over career could only come from a privileged male. Given the glass ceiling, if women do not prioritize a career, they may not be successful, and their self-esteem may suffer.

Professional women who want to marry may have trouble finding a husband, as men often seek less ambitious younger women to care for their needs and children, or resent the demands of their wives’ work. Women who prioritize marriage may end up with far less financial security after divorce or after the death of a breadwinning husband.

Once divorced, women typically have more trouble finding a second spouse than men. Further, within marriage, women generally take on a “second shift” domestically, are more likely to care for infirm husbands late in life and are more subject to domestic violence.

While I agree that a strong marriage is a wonderful asset and intimacy is critical to happiness, making marriage itself a priority over financial security and self-fulfillment can backfire, especially for women.

Susan Spock
Bethesda, Md.

To the Editor:

David Brooks pinpoints a truism that is often forgotten in today’s high-speed chase for career success. As a married father of three, I can attest that it is impossible to find joy when my wife is mad at me. However, if my boss at work is apoplectic, I can sleep like a baby.

I have read that to be a good father, the most important relationship is the one with your spouse. Studies have shown that marital hostility can cause feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness in children.

It is time to update the ancient adage “happy wife, happy life” with “happy spouse, happy house.”

Andrew Ginsburg
Southport, Conn.

To the Editor:

I love David Brooks, but this time he misses the mark. If the headline of the column were “Marriage to the Right Person, Not Career, Brings Happiness,” it would have hit the bull’s-eye. Ask anyone who has been married for a long while and that’s what they will say.

How do you know it’s the right person? That’s the hard part. Risk-averse adults will continue to opt for having control with successful careers rather than taking a chance on having happiness in a marriage.

What about that Harvard University study that found that what really brings happiness is having good relationships? You don’t need to be married for that.

Susan Cohn
La Jolla, Calif.

To the Editor:

David Brooks has a remarkable talent for reaching the mind and touching the spirit in anything he writes. This article was an amazing example of that skill.

My husband and I each grew up amid our parents’ disastrous marriages. From early ages, we both knew we did not want a repeat of those relationships. We worked hard to accomplish career goals, he as an appellate judge and me as a marriage and family therapist. They are pieces of our lives that we continue to rejoice in.

In no manner do they compare to the much greater and more satisfying accomplishment of creating a strong and beautiful marriage.

In December we will celebrate our 64th anniversary.

Joan Harris
New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

To the Editor:

David Brooks argues that young adults focus more on their careers than on marriage because they view professional success as more important than marital happiness — an unwise inversion of priorities. But his criticism overlooks a simple fact.

Finding the right marriage partner is often a matter of luck and serendipity, over which we have little or no control. By contrast, a successful career typically requires constant effort and hard work, day after day, year after year. It’s not illogical for young adults to devote most of their time and energy to building a career rather than searching for a mate.

After all, if your romantic life involves constant effort and hard work, you’re doing it wrong.

Stuart Altschuler
New York

To the Editor:

David Brooks’s column on marriage uses survey data that cannot connect cause and effect. He doesn’t consider the likelihood that positive, optimistic and happy people are far more likely to attract partners and get married than pessimistic, unhappy people.

In other words, surveys that show that married people are happier than unmarried people may not be showing that marriage causes happiness, but instead that happiness promotes marriage … or perhaps there’s a bit of both causations afoot.

Steve Plotkin
Rockville, Md.

To the Editor:

David Brooks should not be giving advice and acting as some sort of expert on the subject of marriage based on a few articles he read. The fact is that about half of marriages end in divorce. Of the remaining couples who stay married, surveys find only half of them are “happy.” The other half remain married mainly for the children or financial security.

So you have a one in four chance of staying married and being happy. Not great odds to my way of thinking.

This is not to say love is not important. But marriage is not the answer for many, not to mention the misery of its dissolution.

Kenneth J. Rosenbaum
New York

To the Editor:

My Uncle Nelson, who was married at least four times that we knew about, gave me the best advice when I was in high school, crying over a broken romance: “Never mind relationships. Find yourself a good career and that will make you much happier in life.”

I wonder how many women would disagree, as I do, with David Brooks’s column.

Josie Zeman
Montclair, N.J.

To the Editor:

David Brooks tells us that when he’s among young adults, he likes to ask how they’re thinking about life’s big commitments — what careers to follow, where to live and whom to marry.

As it happens, when I am among young adults, I like to ask them the same questions, and what I can never understand is why they immediately head for the hills.

Martha Weinman Lear
New York

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