Why Married Women Are Happier Than Single Women

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After reading the University of Virginia’s study of nearly 3000 people to evaluate what makes marriages work, I was delighted to get validation for most of my theories that I espouse on this blog.

Among the highlights of the comprehensive report:

Women who are married are twice as likely to report they’re very happy than single women. 50 percent of married women say they’re “very happy” vs. 25% of single women.

65% of cohabiting parents break up vs. 24% of parents who had a child while married.

People who are married with kids are 8% less very happy than childless couples, but both relationships end up with the same marital satisfaction after 8 years.

People without college degrees get divorced 3x more within the first 10 years of marriage than people with degrees. Divorce has more to do with lack of employability and financial stress than education itself.

58% of married women prefer part time work once they get married. 78% of married men prefer full time work.

Regular church/temple attendance increases “very happy” reports by 9%. People who feel “God” is the center of marriage goes up by 25%. This has more to do with these people being commitment oriented than religious, per se.

Top 5 Predictors of Marital Success are almost identical.

Women:

1. Above average sexual satisfaction
2. Above average commitment
3. Above average generosity to husband
4. Above average attitude toward raising children
5. Above average social support

Men:

1. Above average sexual satisfaction
2. Above average commitment
3. Above average generosity to wife
4. Above average attitude toward raising children
5. Above average marital spirituality

Thus, this report suggests that one path to wedded bliss may be found by embracing an ethic of generosity that encompasses a spirit of service, frequent displays of affection and a willingness to forgive the faults and failings of one’s spouse. This spirit of generosity is all the more important as couples confront the challenges of parenthood together.

Remarkable, it’s everything I’ve been writing about for five years (apart from the God thing) and I didn’t even have to interview 2870 people!

So, to all you people who are perfectly happy being single, I’m thrilled for you – but the reason that people keep coming back to romantic love is that it has the capacity (not the guarantee) of giving your life greater meaning and satisfaction. There’s nothing wrong with being “single and happy” (since, of course, ALL of my clients are single) but, according to this study, women who are married are twice as likely to report they’re very happy than single women.

Why do you come back to the possibility of love, despite its chance to hurt you?

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Comments:

  1. 41
    Helen

    So many of you have brought up terrific and important points.

    Maybe what it all boils down to is this: We humans are social beings. To be happy, we need to be with other people, or at least one more person. And Western society is currently set up  such that, when we become adults, practically the ONLY way we can have steady company of any sort is to be married or in an LTR.   Not groups of friends. Not  multiple generations of family living under one roof.

    It’s not like this in many other cultures, and it wasn’t like this when we were younger. In other cultures, there is a nuclear family, often multiple generations living together, in which a single person could have refuge in terms of company, division of labor,  and financial resources.   We simply don’t have that in the US.   When we were younger, too, we bonded with groups of friends and/or classmates and dorm mates.   Once you’re over a certain age or got your last degree, it’s very rare to be living with parents or friends, and people might look at you suspiciously if you do. You’re pretty much alone if you’re single, or in an exclusive relationship.

    Being alone is not how many complex species evolved  to survive. There’s no judgment in this one way or the other; more complex species do seek and thrive in communities.   I think it is a shame that here in the US and other western countries, the only outlet for that past a certain age is an exclusive  relationship with one other person – marriage being the most common.   So it shouldn’t be a surprise that married people are generally happier, for all the reasons all of you brought up earlier: finances, division of labor, company, etc.

  2. 42
    Nicole

    @Ann, Aretha Franklin isn’t getting married for the first time.   She’s getting married again.   Not sure why you think this is her first marriage.   Steinem on the other hand did get married once, in her 60’s, to Christian Bale’s dad who died a few years after of brain cancer.

    One of her ex-husbands was an actor who starred in both Cooley High and a Different World for many years.     

  3. 43
    Saint Stephen

    Helen @58 – Always makes very solid points; And this time i pretty much agree with everything you said.

      

  4. 44
    nathan

    Helen “Being alone is not how many complex species evolved  to survive. There’s no judgment in this one way or the other; more complex species do seek and thrive in communities.   I think it is a shame that here in the US and other western countries, the only outlet for that past a certain age is an exclusive  relationship with one other person — marriage being the most common.” This is something I have thought a lot about. I lived with my mother (and sister for awhile) during all of my 20s, and received a lot of flack for doing so. People assumed all kinds of things about me solely because of who I chose to live with. Here, I was going to grad school, saving money, and enjoying being close with my family members, and folks thought I was playing video games in the basement. It’s all very curious. People talk about how important their families are, and yet are deeply suspect of those who choose to live with their families post-college. It’s all very convoluted. Living alone for the past 5 years has been wonderful in some ways, but it’s really clear to me how easily single adults can become isolated if they don’t make an effort to maintain connections.
      
    Betsy, I think Bella’s research is very valuable for pointing out the ways in which non-married people are treated different by society. And she’s definitely articulated how single folks can be very happy and have rich lives, all of which I appreciate. I was mostly pointing out that like the Marriage Project, she has a strong agenda that needs to be taken into account when considering what’s being offered.
      
      

  5. 45
    Ruby

    Interesting, I just noticed this statement in an email I received from another dating advisor, “A 15-year-long study found that a person’s happiness level before marriage was the best predictor of happiness after marriage. In other words, marriage won’t automatically make one happy.”

    1. 45.1
      What is happy

      exactly!

  6. 46
    Saint Stephen

    Ruby @52
    I don’t think anyone would dispute the findings of the study you made mention of. However what this study says is that marriage makes those happy people happier.  
    EMK, did previously mention that he was quite contented when single, but that marriage had made him a generally happier person. The way i see it, both studies corresponds and complements each other.

  7. 47
    Ann

    St [email protected]: I don’t think that any studies have said that marriage makes happy people happier. Where did you get that from?

    Helen and Nathan: I don’t see single people as isolated. I see them as not married. There are as many ways of doing single as there are of doing married. But to Nathan’s point, and what DePaulo is an activist against, are just these kinds of stereotypes–that single people are isolated, lonely, unhealthy, selfish, unfit for relationships, antisocial, either promiscuous or not getting any (weird, but that one goes both ways), and now, unhappy.

    Conversely,  the stereotypes about marrieds are that they’re included, loved, healthy, generous, good at relationships, social, always having great sex, and now, happy. Anyone who has spent any time with  both singles and marrieds can see that these stereotypes don’t hold up under scrutiny.

    I suspect these stereotypes are going to change very quicky,  however, given the big demographic  shifts regarding marriage in the  developed world.  In  this week’s Time magazine there’s a spread on what current demographics portend for a girl born  in 2012: They say her chances of getting married are only 41%. (I think what the authors mean is that  if the historical downward trend  in marriage continues at its current rate that only 41 out of 100  children born in 2012 will marry–not the same thing as saying what any one person’s chances of getting married are, actually. A historical trend doesn’t necessarily have predictive value, but that a major news outfit is putting that thought out there is interesting in and of itself.)  

    Nathan: Gotta add that I think you are really cool, and I’m sorry you have had to put up with that kind of b.s. Hope you are happy despite it!

    1. 47.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks for the reasonable post, Ann.

      I’m not a fan of Bella DePaulo for the very reasons that Nathan stated – her agenda is so transparent that everything she does is tinged by it. She’s like the Al Sharpton of single people – always looking for evidence of discrimination against single folk, even when there is none. The real hard truth is that everyone is so caught up in their own lives that they really don’t care enough to worry about single people.

      The reason that married people DO worry about single people? When single people talk about really, really wanting a relationship.

      And who are my primary blog readers? Single people who really, really want a relationship.

      So I think it should go without saying that women who really, really want a relationship and really, really want to understand how men TRULY think and really, really feel happier when they’re in a successful committed couple should not take it too personally when I remind them that there are rewards for marriage that have the capacity to be greater than the rewards of being single.

      I can assure you that you’ve never heard me say that single people are “isolated, lonely, unhealthy, selfish, unfit for relationships, antisocial, either promiscuous or not getting any (weird, but that one goes both ways), and now, unhappy.” To say that you can be happier as part of a couple doesn’t mean you’re UNhappy as a single person. To say that being a part of a couple means that you must become selfless doesn’t mean that single people are selfish. And to take anything I’ve written and twist it into that is exactly the kind of thing I will continue to refute in this comments section.

      Why is it so hard to see the grey area here? You’re very bright. Isn’t it obvious that I highly respect and value single women and want only for them to be happy? If so, then why do I constantly feel the need to correct your interpretation of what I say? And if not – if you don’t think that I respect single women – why are you even reading this blog?

  8. 48
    Ann

    [email protected]: Well now, I’m not sure why I thought it was #1 for Aretha either. So I guess I won’t get married, then! 🙂

  9. 49
    Ann

    [email protected]: Not sure why you took my comments about stereotypes re: singles as being directed at you or what you say. Nathan was expressing his frustration/anger over being categorized in a certain way because he’s single, and I was confirming that in my view he isn’t making that up. And yes, DePaulo is an activist, so she’s trying to change things. It is exactly what you say–that married people don’t care about single people–that is her point. The bias/discrimination/stereotypes are unconscious, in the way that racial or gender bias/discrimination/stereotypes have been unconscious. So her activism (and that of others) is about raising people’s consciousness.

    I have no problem with your work or with people wanting to get married or with people getting married. (I can’t imagine what would compel me to marry, but something might someday. Who knows?) I do tend to point it out when people go unconscious about things in my life, however. So when people misrepresent a group that I belong to, and which I know more about, I do speak up. I seem to know a lot about happy singlehood, so I’m more than willing to share about that if it helps people. Can’t see why anyone would find that offensive.

    To that point, perhaps you can explain why it is that people who are pro-marriage feel the need to say things like “married women are happier than single women,” when this is clearly a belief, not a fact, and one  that can be so easily refuted. It seems like a thinly veiled threat, actually, which is pretty unnecessary if marriage offers such obvious benefits. These kind of statements are only going to provoke rebuttals from people like Nathan, and Bella, and me, which you then experience as an attack, even though you started it. I assure you that I am just setting the record straight, and I have no opinion on whether or not you respect single women.   

    My suggestion is that you’ll catch more flies with honey.  How about the message: “If you want a  happy marriage, be a happy single”?  “If you want to attract a happy single guy, be a happy single gal”? And then, if you really do believe that married women are happier than single women, you can add the punchy tagline: “And from that point of strength, you can be even happier if you get married!”

    Also, I can’t imagine how being an unhappy single person, and unhappy because you’re single, is going to be attractive to anybody. And I don’t see how posts with negative conclusions about singles helps anybody who is unhappy with their single status.

    Fear-mongering usually backfires. Living single is nothing to be afraid of.

    1. 49.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Ann – As I said in previous comments, I posted the study because it validated my belief that marriage has the potential to make people “very happy”. I still believe that because I see it every day.

      However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever said that you’re unhappy being single, so please stop saying that. Oh, and telling someone “be a happy single gal” is not dating advice.

      1. 49.1.1
        Napa

        it will be interesting in 10 years  or so when someone can study this hypothesis among gay married couples and see if it holds up.

    2. 49.2
      Lisa B

      I’m curious: Why do you even read this blog if you feel the way you do about marriage?   Ultimately, Evan’s advice does seem to be centered around the goal of finding a marriage partner.    Also, whether  you agree with the conclusion about happiness and marriage or not, it seems to be that a lot of people are missing the point: Evan  was summarizing results from a study (and making the point that the study validated his own beliefs), not  just stating  an unfounded opinion.   And he wasn’t doing it to make anyone feel bad or defensive, although  it seems to have done both.   It does seem like there is a lot of bitterness, and  I can understand that, since my experience is dating  can indeed be very hard  and very wearing on one’s soul.          

  10. 50
    Ann

    [email protected]: I think that “pursue happiness” is excellent advice no matter what one’s gender or relationship status, whether one is dating or not. This pursuit is a basic tenet of our Constitution, so it seems that a lot of great minds have found it to be an important goal.

    And you don’t need a study to get it that marriage also has the potential to make people “very unhappy.” I doubt that 50% of marriages end because the participants are happy; I do suspect that they are ending their marriages in the pursuit of happiness.

    So what marriage holds potentially is a moot point. What’s  important, more than one’s relationship status, is whether or not one is happy in the here and now.

    I say that if you aren’t happy in the here and now you probably won’t be happy getting married either. You say that if you’re not happy in the here and now you might become “very happy” if you get married. You say potato, I say potato. Meh.

    1. 50.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sweet Ann,

      50% of marriages end because people marry too quickly, based on chemistry and passion, rather than values, kindness, character, and compassion.

      As a result, there are many people out there who can’t make ANYONE happy – and are doomed to fail over and over and over again.

      That’s not “marriage’s” fault. That’s PEOPLE’s fault. People are shortsighted. They build up credit card debt. They fail to save for retirement. They get tattoos that they regret. And a LOT of them marry the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

      The study simply shows that a happy marriage can take one’s happiness to a higher level. I’ve experienced that. And I recommend that others strive for similarly happy marriages. You somehow see this study as an attack on you. I see this study as something that’s aspirational for women who want to get married.

  11. 51
    nathan

    Ann, when I spoke of isolation above, I was speaking to the fact that it’s often more work for single people to maintain connections. In some respects precisely because when our friends and family couple off, they usually place most of their attention on that relationship. I would never describe singles isolated as a group, and I believe there are many ways for everyone – single, coupled, married, etc. – to develop and maintain connections. I have had married friends who did a great job of also keeping friends and family in their lives, even when they had children. At the same time, too often, I’ve experienced the opposite. Someone who was close disappears completely from your life because they’ve coupled off. Sometimes the same person is totally gone and unreachable for months or years, and then they break up with their partner, and suddenly want to resume the old relationship. There’s something really off about this dynamic.  
      
    So, part of my reaction to this particular study is that it not only gives a narrow definition of what a happy marriage looks like, but it also doesn’t offer much in terms of how the other people in a person’s life – friends, co-workers, and extended family to name a few – play a role in that happiness. It’s entirely too fixated on one’s partner and children, which I believe is problematic. In fact, I would argue that at least some marriages crumble because of an unrealistic belief that the other person can meet the vast majority of one’s needs in relationship, and/or that one’s partner and children can do that. I’d bet if you look much more deeply at those 2800 happy married couples from the study, you’d find that for most of them, there was a wider support network and set of intimate connections that played into the reports of happiness. If those who seek to be married forget this, and let most of those other relationships wither and die once they get married, they’ll probably end up miserable eventually.

  12. 52
    Ann

    [email protected]: Wrong–I don’t see the study as an attack on me. I don’t see it as a legitimate study at all because of the methodology flaws and  obvious bias problems  already discussed by Nathan, Betsey, Helen, and others on this board and many, many others in other communication channels.  If I were ever get married I would still see it as a stupid study designed to prop up the beliefs of a segment of society whose way of life is slipping away.

    And before you jump down my throat about  that last sentence:  I didn’t write the Time magazine marriage projection blurb, I don’t take the US Census, and I don’t work for  the Pew Research Center. I’m just not freaked out or unhappy or surprised by their findings. And I don’t think that  reality should be something other than what it is. Because my reality is a  happy one. And yet–gasp–I’m not married!!!!
      

    1. 52.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      As long as you can own your own bias. Ann.

      You’re bright, but that’s the one thing I’ve never gotten from you – an admission that you spend a lot of time talking about what’s wrong with men who disagree with you, but haven’t owned any flaws of your own. To me, the simple fact that you don’t admit it when I score points IS your flaw, and why it’s likely hard to be in a relationship with you.

      When you make reasonable men feel unreasonable, they have very little patience for it, as I’m sure you can tell.

  13. 53
    starthrower68

    I just got three cats.   The dangerous slide down the crazy cat lady slope has begun, lol…..

  14. 54
    Ann

    [email protected]: I haven’t said anything about “what’s wrong with men who disagree with me.” I haven’t spoken about men in particular on here at all. So what are you talking about (????). You’re the one who’s always turning it into man v woman discussion, not me.

    But again with the threats–if you don’t tell me I’m right then you’re hard to be a relationship with. If you make me feel unreasonable, no man will put up with you. Do you see how you’re doing that and not me?

    And just to recap stuff I’ve already mentioned, I’m in a relationship with a man I’ve known for 10+ years,  I work in a male-dominated industry and do very well there, and if I threw a party tomorrow, half of the attendees would be my great guy friends and neighbors. Again: Happy. Successful. Loved. Respected. Not married. Probably never will be. So what’s the problem here?

    1. 54.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      The problem is that you’re exhausting. You attempt to contradict everything I say. And if you don’t like what I say, why don’t you find a blog that better suits your sensibilities? I’m really not offended.

  15. 55
    Zann

    @ Starthrower 64 — Hilarious! Thank you!

    Time to lighten up, people.

  16. 56
    nicole

    Married women provide sense of meaning in their lives that have a lot of protective effect on health and less struggles with depression.

  17. 57
    Susan

    Don’t forget – Evan – you are a newlywed with a newborn. You are supposed to be on cloud 9! Just wait a few years and a few kids later. Homework. Grades. Dating. Driving. College applications.  A child with special needs.You are both stressed and tired. Your wife’s body may not be exactly the same as when you met.

    I’m sure all of your clients were in blissful marriages. In the beginning. So be careful to say marriage has made you happy when you are very new to the game.

    Just saying.  

  18. 58
    Janet

    EMK 66: Dude, you need to chill out. She wasn’t attacking you. The reverse, I’d say.

  19. 59
    AnnaMae

    I read his with an open mind, and I must admit, it was a tad difficult. I am that happy single woman, and I am not ready to change that yet. I have been in love and it burnt my fingers so I have decided to embrace my single self and get to know who I am, without the intrusion of others. Maybe I am wrong. but I don’t think a relationship is the cure all for people. I meet so many people who cannot be single, or who are waiting for that big love to come along and make them happy and complete them. And time and time again they get hurt.  I am a firm believer that you have to have the happy  tools in the box prior to being in a happy relationship. You can’t expect the relationship to make you happy, you need to make you happy.

  20. 60
    Kali

    This really hit home to me.   My husband and I have been married for 8 months now and I couldn’t believe how much happier we both were after our wedding day.   It’s like it rekindled our relationship and made us realize that it is each other that we want for the rest of our lives.   When you realize you have the person that you’ve been looking for your whole life its like a weight is lifted and you can truly enjoy every waking moment with that person.   I believe the happiness that single people feel is a completely different kind of happiness than married people.   It isn’t life long happiness instead a short term leading through each experience they encounter.  

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