Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- You might have heard: Brad and Angelina secretly tied the knot at last. A spokesperson for the couple announced that the pair wed privately in a nondenominational civil ceremony in France over the weekend. So ends years of speculation as to when, if ever, one of Hollywood's more famously liberal couples will finally make it official. It's official.
The first question, of course: Why now? With the recent, public undoing of some long-term celebrity marriages—Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas, Neil and Pegi Young—it's tempting to wonder why another celebrity couple would even bother. Pitt and Jolie have sustained a seemingly successful relationship (and built a rather large family) without marriage, and the pair is famously liberal besides—the sort of people you might assume are among those a recent Pew Research Center survey found to increasingly consider marriage passé. Conformist. On the road to obsolete.
But while marriage in the United States is indeed at a record low, there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched. Marriage confers many financial rights: Federal provisions provide benefits and protections exclusively to married couples, as they also do to small businesses, homeowners and the unemployed. That's one reason millions of gay Americans, and their friends and supporters, continue to fight for the right to marry traditionally.
It also comes with emotional, psychological and intellectual benefits. According to studies cited by the National Marriage Project, people in happy marriages are healthier, have more and better sex, and are richer than their unmarried counterparts -- not that it matters to Brad and Angie. Research also shows that the more education and financial independence a woman has, the more likely she is to stay married.
But let's not forget that if you are a celebrity, marriage also does a pretty good job of, you guessed it, garnering press. A cynical view, perhaps, but not unwarranted, especially when you consider Brad and Angelina have never exactly shied away from using their relationship and their children as story hooks. It's hard not to wonder if the announcement of the marriage had anything to do with his upcoming film, "Fury," set for release in October, or hers, "Unbroken," which she directed, due out Christmas Day. Meanwhile, this summer the two began filming "By the Sea," their first film as co-stars since "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," the movie that sparked their romance. At the very least, the many, many reports on their marriage will surely mention these projects, as -- oh, look -- I've just gone and done.
Brad and Angelina's decision to marry after a decade and six children seems like an incredibly informed one that reflects recent research from the National Marriage Project, which finds couples who make intentional decisions regarding "major relationship transitions," rather than just letting things happen because it's the next logical step, are more likely to have successful marriages. And indeed, their union is representative of the rising rates of cohabitation before marriage, which gives people more time to make sure theirs is a good choice.
So maybe that's it. Maybe these two waited so long precisely because they don't take marriage (his second, her third) lightly. Getting more moviegoers in seats as a result? Well, that's just the icing on the proverbial wedding cake.