Are Married People Happier Than Singles?

Happy Attractive Loving Couple Portrait in the Park.

Brace yourself, single readers. Studies say the answer is yes. Before you attack me because YOU’RE happy, dammit, please read the rest of this blog post.

“Psychologists have pointed to marriage as the single most reliable happiness indicator. Across nations and ethnic groups, people report greater happiness from marriage than career, community or money [source: Seligman]. A 2005 survey from the Pew Research Center substantiates these assertions. Forty-three percent of married respondents reported that they were “very happy,” compared to 24 percent of unmarried individuals [source: Pew Research Center]. Those results were consistent for all age groups and genders.”

Now let’s clarify, so we can’t be misunderstood in the comments section*:

1. Marriage isn’t a guarantee of happiness. 48% of marriages end in divorce.
2. Single people can be very happy. In fact 24% of singles self-report as very happy.
3. No one here is judging you if you’re single. If anything, I’m just reiterating what you already know – life with love can be really, really nice – that’s why you ended up on a dating coach’s site. If you weren’t interested in love, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

The article poses an important follow up to the observation that married people have greater potential to become very happy. “As any good scientist knows, correlation does not always equal causation. To close the case on whether marital bliss trumps the single life, we must deduce which comes first: happiness or marriage?” Here’s what the author discovered:

Humans are predisposed to certain happiness ranges depending on their genetics, personality and life circumstances.

“Michigan State University found that spouses exhibited an uptick in happiness soon after marriage. Then, those happiness levels gradually returned to their premarital state. This pattern is comparable to the effects of sudden financial improvement on people’s happiness. For people living with relatively low incomes, money can buy happiness for a while. Yet the longer someone gets used to having more cash on hand, the more it loses its luster.”

I thought this paragraph did a great job of summing up a possible reason that married people are happier, despite the possibility of divorce – they’re wired that way (just like extroverts, by the way): “This doesn’t negate the survey results that show higher happiness rates among married people. Rather, it has led some psychologists to conjecture that married people are merely more inclined toward happiness since they’re happier to begin with. Humans are predisposed to certain happiness ranges depending on their genetics, personality and life circumstances. Also, happier people are generally more social, and it follows that people who actively socialize will be more likely to meet someone they’d like to marry.”

Finally, the article points out that marriage isn’t a panacea and doesn’t, in and of itself, create happiness. It’s important to be a selfless and self-aware partner, fully cognizant of the sacrifices inherent in being part of a couple. You need to have realistic expectations, as I’m consistently preaching in this space.

Marriage won’t magically create happiness, which makes personal character development during the single years even more important.”

“A study from the University of Florida highlighted a relationship between the skills that people bring to a marriage and people’s anticipation for how much marriage will improve their lives. If partners have overly high expectations for marriage transforming their lives into in a joyous wonderland, they need to have the relationship skills to match. Otherwise, it’s like going to a spelling bee expecting first place without ever cracking a dictionary.

As we’ve learned from happiness surveys, wedding bells can portend happy futures. But happily ever after requires more than an “I do.” Marriage won’t magically create happiness, which makes personal character development during the single years even more important.”

That’s what we’re trying to do here. Learn to understand the opposite sex, how to date online and off, and how to make smart relationship decisions that can lead you to a happy marriage.

*Footnotes*

1. Marriage isn’t a guarantee of happiness. 48% of marriages end in divorce.
Yes, but this statistic is highly skewed by astronomically high divorce rates for people who get married under the age of 25 and people who have lower education. If you’re a college educated woman who gets married after 30, you have over an 80% chance of having a lasting marriage.

2. Single people can be very happy. In fact 24% of singles self-report as very happy. Yes, but 43% of married couples do the same.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Chance

    EMK said:
    “It’s important to be a selfless and self-aware partner, fully cognizant of the sacrifices inherent in being part of a couple. You need to have realistic expectations”
     
    I like this point.  If marriage is the goal, I think most people could make significant strides in developing the character necessary for a successful marriage by spending a lot less time assessing what they want in a partner and a lot more time assessing what it will take to be a great partner.

  2. 2
    judy

    Maybe married people are happier but they were still single first! And presumably happy singles, otherwise they wouldn’t be married, would they?

  3. 3
    Morris

    Don’t you get married to someone that makes you very happy?  If anything this screams DON’T get married.  You have a greater change of NOT ending up very happy(43 vs 57) even though you married someone who made you very happy before getting married.
     
    And you can’t compare that to ALL people that don’t get married.  That statistic would include the totally undateable, non-marriage material, etc.  How about comparing it to successful daters vs married people?  Or wealthy/attractive etc people to married people?
     
    Just shows that sometimes statistics don’t mean much.  Another way to look at it is:
     
    100% of all married couples were very happy PRIOR to marriage.  Only 43% remained very happy AFTER marriage.  It’s all in the delivery.

    1. 3.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Oh, Morris. You’re completely making things up to suit your narrative. So let’s start over, shall we?

      1. Don’t you get married to someone that makes you very happy?

      No. It’d be nice to think that. But millions of people who shouldn’t get married do get married. These are people in emotionally and verbally abusive relationships, people who got pregnant accidentally and decided to get hitched, people who are infatuated for six months and get engaged, people who are afraid, lonely, or settling, people with family issues, addiction issues, depression issues, money issues, people who break up and make up, people who’ve been dating for seven years because he didn’t want to get married – ALL of these people get married, and they’re not necessarily happy, much less “very happy”.

      2. 100% of all married couples were very happy PRIOR to marriage. Only 43% remained very happy AFTER marriage.

      You’re twisting it to say that 100% of people were happy and then marriage itself made them unhappy. Not remotely true. As I just illustrated, lots of scared, lonely people get married. They are not necessarily happy to start. You’re acting like the institution of marriage destroyed the happiness of 57% of people. That is a blatant misintepretation.

      3. The study uses the term “very happy”. Without doing more research, it also talks about “happy” and “somewhat happy”, etc. The point of my post is that the highest pinnacle of happiness “very happy” was reached by TWICE as many married people as compared to single people. That’s why people keep coming back to love, even though it has the chance to hurt them.

      No more willful misreadings of my stuff. Go to RedState.com if you want to ignore facts and argue based on emotion.

  4. 4
    Diane

    This year is my 25th wedding anniversary, and I am very happily married.  but it has taken joy and tears, especially in the early years to get to this position. Of course marriage isn’t easy, it takes a lot of personal virtues from either partner for a successful relationship.
    I have a single friend who says she is happy with her lifestyle choice. But she has also told me she is envious of my happy marriage!
     
     

  5. 5
    Jackie H.

    As of today, I’ve been married for two months, and it’s been great so far!

  6. 6
    Karl S

    So the actual question is  – “Are happy people more marriageable?”

    1. 6.1
      rachel

      Yes, I think you nailed it!  That is my question too.

  7. 7
    Ruby

    If millions of people get married for the wrong reasons, many of them stay married for the wrong reasons too, and not all of them get divorced. The fact that almost 50% of marriages end in divorce still doesn’t tell the whole story about people who slog it out, even though they are unhappy. And then there’s the fact that second marriages have higher divorce rates, and third marriages even higher than that, so it isn’t just a question of people getting hitched too young. Especially with the economic downturn, I’m guessing that many couples stay together mainly for financial reasons.
     
    EMK is correct that those who are educated and have higher incomes have a greater chance at a happy marriage than those without. The crisis in marriage is hurting the less educated and the poor in greater numbers. But as far as early marriage goes, while marrying at 25 is greater predictor of marital happiness than marrying at 20, marrying at 30 rather than 25 doesn’t have much of an effect on happiness. Some researchers believe that those who get married in their mid-late twenties are actually happier than those who marry later.  There’s also been a rise in co-habitation, and many of those people may be just as happy as those who are married.
     
    I do think that stable people are more marriageable and more likely to be happy as a result. So while I’d agree that a happy marriage is a great thing, I have to wonder how many people really do achieve that. How can we ensure that more people do achieve relationship success?

  8. 8
    Morris

    @EMK #4 – The point of my post WAS that I can twist it to fit my narrative. Just as the study does for IT’S narrative. How can you compare a group of people in a relationship(marriage) to a group of people who may or may not be in a relationship(un-married) people? At least compare the married to the people NOT married but in a relationship.

  9. 9
    Jenn

    Not this old trope again.

    (Refute the study before you call it a “trope” – EMK)

  10. 10
    Ruth

    I’m having a Bridget Jones moment, stuck in a room full of ‘smug marrieds’. Morris is right, statistics can say whatever you want them to say, and that’s a fact!! I suppose the overwhelming feeling from this piece is, yet again, that being single is somehow wrong and a disgrace. Speaking as a 57 year old divorcee, whose much loved husband ran off with someone half his age, and who has been trying for the past 13 years to find a good relationship, I find it all upsetting and patronising. it’s wonderful that others have found marvellous relationships but others are not in that position. And, since women outnumber men, perhaps some of us never will be – statistics again!

  11. 11
    judy

    Karl S – would you get into a relationship with an unhappy person???? (Excluding such things are bereavement and grief where support would be appreciated).
    I like the mathematical equation
    1 happy person x 1 happy person = + 2 happy people
    (Now try the other mathematical variations!!!)

    Ruby – if you have high incomes both of you, that doesn’t necessarily buy happiness in love. People have low incomes and can still be happy. I remember an old couple with a very low income and they loved each other dearly. They stayed within their means and bless them, used to cycle each day together.

  12. 12
    Kiki

    I am a very happy person, I am married and I have children. I am not sure which of those is the cause and which is the effect. 

  13. 13
    Jenna

    My sister was just remarking to me the other day that there’s no joy in our parent’s marriage – they’ve been together for 36 years and from the time I was a child I remember them constantly fighting, shouting, snarling, and disrepecting each other. However, it’s not that they married the wrong person – neither was all that happy before marriage either, so they actually aligned quite well. It’s sad because they mean well, but simply don’t understand how to live a happy life in general – constant outbursts, complaining, negativity.
    Seeing that has made me extraordinarily conscious of my mental state as a longtime single woman. I constantly visualize creating a happy, respectful family and after some rough times repeating some of their same patterns through depression, toxic outbursts, etc., I now consider myself an extremely stable, respectful, well-rounded and happy person at age 29. I know that it is very important to be happy now because we all can only attract partners who are on our level. By being stable and happy now, I will attract a stable and happy husband and we will have a stable and happy marriage (and happy, stable children). Walking around like a broken person because I’m single and thinking marriage will make me happier would be ridiculous. It wouldn’t work. I likely just would attract another dysfunctional person.
    I suppose my happiness could increase with marriage, instead of just continuing, but I really have no idea how true love really works.

  14. 14
    josavant

    Evan, this article you linked to doesn’t show that married people are happier. It said that married people have an uptick in happiness in the beginngin and then settle to their premarital levels of happiness after the honeymoon period. The article you linked to cites a study by Michigan State that is not linked to, and when you search for it, you can’t find the original. It also links to a Financial times article that doesn’t say that married people are happier, but that they value marriage at a certain price, which could have to do with higher incomes of married people (which may explain how they were more able to get married in the first place, and also explain happiness by financial security, not marriage).
     
    What I take from the Financial Times part of the article is this. Married people have higher incomes, and place a value on marriage. that doesn’t mean they’re happier, but it could be the endowment effect- once you have something, like a spouse, you find it harder to hypothetically give him up compared with if you never had one. If they are happier than singles, it could be because they have higher income, which makes them more financially secure. But the higher income could have led to being more marriageable, not the marriage leading to the higher income. You can’t tell which came first.
     
    I am not saying that marriage doesn’t make people happier. but this article doesn’t prove it. if anything, it hints at the opposite by pointing out that married people return to a premarital state of happiness after the honeymoon.

    (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2006/02/13/are-we-happy-yet/ and http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2006/02/13/are-we-happy-yet/17-3/ – EMK)

  15. 15
    Goldie

    It depends. I am a team player, and a family-oriented person. I know I’m at my happiest in a healthy, functional family. (Even if it only consists of me and my kids.) I will probably also be at my happiest in a healthy, functional partnership. This goes for most of us humans. While some of us genuinely love solitude, most of us are, well, companionship animals. So I tend to believe the married couples that classified themselves as very happy.
     
    That said, “healthy and functioning” is the key word. I was married, and was miserable in my marriage, and would never think of going back to it again. Just any warm body in your house won’t make you happy. And a really good marriage or partnership is incredibly hard to come by.
     
    I’m not holding my breath. If it happens to me in my lifetime,great! If it doesn’t, I’ll be as happy as I can be on my own, taking care of pets and helping raise grandchildren.

  16. 16
    Marie

    I think it’s great that married people could potentially be happier.  Why envy them that?  It’s a huge achievement to be able to get married and to the right person!  People wouldn’t be trying to do it if there wasn’t some reward.  Why all the bitterness?  This miserable world needs more happiness in it and I’ll take it any way I can. 
     
    I’ve read this blog from the time I was single and I have to say it’s been a journey.  I researched very hard what was the point of being married.  But nothing beats actually being married.  There are so many unnamed benefits to being married that I had no way of realizing before.  I now get what all the hubbub was about.  It’s not concrete.  It’s just an overwhelming sense of well-being, is how I can describe it, and no I couldnt personally get this from being in a long term committed relationship.  Its not really logical per se because you could argue what is it you get from being married that you can’t get from cohabitating?  Yet it’s really different, at least for me!  There’s a sense of permanence, commitment and actively building a future together stone by stone that I never got in any other type of relationship.  I was never a miserable single and I would consider myself well-adjusted.  But there is just something about marriage that is different.  And I don’t think I’ve lost anything from my single life, but rather added another dimension to my life (well except the ability to have random sex which I could not do to begin with).  Anyhow, to each their own but for those on the fence who are afraid and trying to think of marriage logically, if you feel like you are with the right person and you are ready, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

  17. 17
    Julia

    I think people take offense to posts like this because many people come here because they want to be married. So posting that they aren’t as happy as they could be is going upset people. I don’t need a reminded that I am single and want to be married. I remind myself about 20 times a day. Now I know some people here are sworn against marriage but they are the small but vocal minority.

  18. 18
    marymary

    Marie
    I’m not married but I  agree with you.  Indefinitely pursuing a relationship with no security is not for me.  It’s not even about being happier for me.  At some point just “going with the flow” loses its appeal. 
    50% of marriages may end in divorce (I think it’s falling in the UK) but the break up rate for “living together” or “LTR” must be way higher.  If marriage was not that big a deal people wouldn’t bother arguing against it.   I think a miserable marriage, though, is worse than being single.  Even miserable single.  It’s unhappiness squared.
    PS here’s a random unrelated factoid.  The break up of same sex civil partnerships in the UK is higher for lesbians than for men.  I wonder why it’s women who seem to instigate most divorces.
     

  19. 19
    Goldie

    Marie 17
     
    “And I don’t think I’ve lost anything from my single life, but rather added another dimension to my life (well except the ability to have random sex which I could not do to begin with).”
     
    I lost a lot from my single life in my last relationship, that I’m just now finding out about. Because he and I had such a good connection, and so much in common, and because I’m pretty easygoing in general, I was happy to have my life revolve around his – attending events in his town, hanging out with his friends etc. After he ended it, I found out that I’ve lost touch with most of the friends I used to have, after having had practically no contact with them for two years. Trying to reconnect is tough and, in some cases, impossible. He was my closest friend for two years; his friends and children were my social circle. I lost all of them overnight. For the first time in my life since I graduated college and moved to another town where I knew no one, I have hardly any friends. (But the few that I still do have are gold :) ) It is much harder to make new friends at 46 than it was at 22.
     
    This is not a statement against marriage or partnership. This is a warning. I agree with what Evan said that one should be “fully cognizant of the sacrifices inherent in being part of a couple”. But you have to also be able to evaluate long-term effects of the sacrifices you’re being expected to make, know where to draw the line, know when to have a conversation about meeting each other halfway. Don’t be like me. Even I I won’t be like me next time around

  20. 20
    judy

    Ruth 11 – I can sympathize with you because I’ve been there – so they were all happy, smug couples? And they feel superior because they’re married? Or maybe you feel inferior because they seem to have it all together?
    Heartache is a pig like that because we misconstruct our sand castles.
    I do know a woman of 80, yes 80, who got married in white, yes she did!

  21. 21
    Karl R

    Morris said: (#9)
    “The point of my post WAS that I can twist it to fit my narrative. Just as the study does for IT’S narrative.”
     
    You’re making up data that’s not actually true. You’re claiming that 100% of people are happy when they get married, and studies have shown that is incorrect.
    Example:
    http://www.prepare-enrich.com/pe_main_site_content/pdf/research/study4.pdf
     
    You may be entitled to your own opinion about what the facts mean, but you’re not entitled to make up your own facts.
     
    Ruth said: (#11)
    “I’m having a Bridget Jones moment, stuck in a room full of ‘smug marrieds’.”
     
    If the marrieds are just sitting around being smug, then we’re not providing helpful relationship advice … and providing helpful advice is the whole purpose of this blog.
     
    Setting that aside, let’s see if any of the information provided could actually be helpful.
     
    As a couple people suggested, happy people may find it easier to get married. That matches my personal experiences. My life started dramatically improving about 7 years ago. That primarily occurred because I stumbled into a career that turned out to be a great fit (so I can’t claim a lot of credit for the change).
     
    But that dramatic change made me a lot happier. It also provided a boost in self-confidence. We all know that self-confidence makes dating easier, so the correlation between my increased happiness and my increased dating success may be purely coincidental.
     
    Around that same time I dated two women. The first suffered from moderate to severe depression, and she was going through a bad time. All of those issues stemmed from things that were out of her control, so I can’t take any credit for being better off than her in that regard. But after 3 months of dating, I concluded that the relationship just wasn’t that enjoyable. Her circumstances weren’t her fault, but they were still a constant drag on the relationship.
     
    The second woman was happier. She didn’t suffer from depression. She had lots of self-confidence. She was much more fun to be around. However, she was unhappy about her job. This was due to the administration at her job, which was truly screwed up. It wasn’t something that was under her control. (It was also something I’d experienced at previous jobs, so I could truly empathize.) Every time we got together, she spent 15-30 minutes venting about the latest idiocy that occurred at work (much like I used to). During the 8 1/2 months that we dated, she never had a good week at work. At one point while we were dating, I remember wishing that she’d have a good week, just for the novelty of something different.
     
    When I’d had lousy employers, I’d complained and vented in a similar fashion to her. For the first time in my life, I realized what a drag that was to the people who had to listen to me.
     
    Even within my marriage, my wife is a lot easier to be around when she’s happy. There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” This is true even when my wife is mad about something out of my control (her job, her family). I suspect I’m a lot easier to be around when I’m happy too.
     
    Just based on my personal experience, I would say that it’s easier to get married and stay married if you’re a happy person.
     
    “The only thing over which you have complete control is your own mental attitude.”
    Napoleon Hill
     
    The older I get, the more I realize that my happiness is influenced by my attitude, not just external circumstances.
     
    And there are some studies that back that up.
    http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/selfesteem_positivepsychology/conversations/topics/1
    (Read the entire article before critiquing it. One of the scientist who believed people couldn’t change their happiness later changed his mind.)

  22. 22
    Trixie

    The pew studies that were linked above the conclusions were based on interviews with  3, 000 individuals, Now  the population of the US is  300 million so how representative are 3000 people in a population that size. This study also states that Republicans and those who attend religious services are happier. 
     
    I think most people views on these issues are based on one’s reall life experiences.   For me I was married once have no desire to do it again. My happiness generally   does not depend on external factors such as marital status. 

    (@Trixie – You don’t much about statistics. A sample size of over 1000 will get you to a +/-4% accuracy rate. This – by the way – is how ALL polls are run, not by interviewing 300 million people – EMK)

  23. 23
    Ruby

    Judy #17
     
    <<Ruby – if you have high incomes both of you, that doesn’t necessarily buy happiness in love. People have low incomes and can still be happy. I remember an old couple with a very low income and they loved each other dearly. They stayed within their means and bless them, used to cycle each day together.>>
     
    No, money doesn’t buy happiness, but having a decent income does provide relief for some things that can cause stress in a marriage. Also, people who have materials assets are more likely to get married in the first place. OTOH, people who are too materialistic tend to be less happy also, because they focus too much on things, rather than on each other.

  24. 24
    Karl R

    Trixie asked: (#23)
    “the population of the US is  300 million so how representative are 3000 people in a population that size.”
     
    As Evan implied, a sample of 3,000 is the gold standard of statistical surveys.
    http://www.dfrank.com/samplesize.htm
    “Generally, samples of 1,000 are well regarded for national surveys. (The layman, however, might be critical of samples of 1,000 or 2,000 considering an adult population of 180 million or so – particularly when their favorite TV show is threatened with cancellation because of poor ratings.) The key to good research, however, is not sample size so much as it is getting representative samples.”
     
    Furthermore, Pew Research is one of the top research companies in the world. They know how to get a representative sample.

  25. 25
    Morris

    @Karl R #22 – You realize I was exaggerating right?  And you totally missed the point.  Let me break it down so you.
     
    The article was twisting things to fit IT’S narrative because it was comparing people in a relationship(marriage) with people who may or may not be in a relationship(un-married).  And trying to infer that MARRIAGE was the difference maker.  That’s not comparing apples to apples.
     
    What if I said people who play SOCCER are happier than people who didn’t play SPORTS?  Can I say playing SOCCER was the key to happiness?  No.  I should have been trying to compare people who play sports to those that don’t play sports to see if playing sports makes people happy.  OR I should have compared people who play soccer to those that play basketball or baseball to see if soccer was the sport that makes people the happiest.
     
    Back to the article.  They should have been trying to prove being in a relationship made people happier.(Marriage or other)  Or PROVE marriage was better than other relationship.

  26. 26
    judy

    Ruby 24 – yes I totally agree but I do know of some very very rich people who don’t enjoy their money.  Or the freedom it gives them.  Having a huge income (or even a very comfortable one) does have a price tag. 
    I’m not being quarrelsome here – just thinking of possible other ideas.
    Keep them coming Ruby, or anyone else.

  27. 27
    David T

    Josavant 15

    You hit the causal thing on the head. I did find the Richard E. Lucas (Michigan State) work on the long term longitudinal German studies. Here is a follow-on paper to the one referenced  by  the Time Magazine article referred to by  the HowStuffWorks article Evan’s blog pointed us to. (*)  In this paper Lucas addresses some oversights in the earlier work and still finds that it is a matter of happier people being more likely to get married in the first place.
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-006-9001-x#page-1
    and here is a link to the full original 2006 article since Springer is too  to let us peek past the abstract for free.
    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/10857177_Reexamining_adaptation_and_the_set_point_model_of_happiness_reactions_to_changes_in_marital_status/file/d912f50895dc41ade5.pdf
    (*)(This is how casual readers get into trouble with science. A Time article pulls material out of context from one paper, another popular press article draws from that, and then someone writes blog summary of what they gleaned from THAT article and that person’s readers  have their takeaway from the blogger’s conclusions. It is a like a game of telephone only worse because it is entire papers, not just one sentence.) 
     

    Karl 22
    “I would say that it’s easier to get married and stay married if you’re a happy person.”
    Very well put.  Happier people will be less likely to get divorced. That is intuitively obvious and at least one study backs it up. This means the married folk will pile up more in the happy column as the unhappy married people will be more likely to not be in their marriages as long.
    Here is the paper, also by R. Lucas . http://pss.sagepub.com/content/16/12/945.short
    My take is if you want to get married, you can improve your odds by being happy and making whatever life changes you need to be that way, and if you want to stay married, keep up your happiness AND choose a happy partner. 

    ( Keep in mind all those studies were based on Germans, and you know how THEY are. ;) )

  28. 28
    marymary

    Trixie
    I got happier from attending religious services. And maybe republicans have less angst, I wouldn’t know. 

  29. 29
    Morris

    I really should proofread before posting.  Besides the ‘… break it down FOR you’.  It should have read ‘What if I said people who play SOCCER are happier than people who didn’t play SOCCER?’

  30. 30
    Goldie

    MaryMary 29, I was about to post that too. I was a church member for 20 years, I felt happy. Most people around me felt happy. That was kind of like the whole point, in a way. So whatever study it was that found religious people to be happy, doesn’t seem very far off to me.

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