According to a Gallup poll released recently, married adults report being much happier than those in any other marital status.
“No matter how you analyze this data, we see a fairly large and noticeable advantage of marriage in terms of how people evaluate their lives,” says survey author Jonathan Rothwell, chief economist at Gallup.
According to CNN, from 2009 to 2023, more than 2.5 million adults in the United States answered the question of how they would rate their current life, with zero being the worst possible rating and 10 being the highest. The researchers then asked respondents what they thought their level of happiness would be in five years.
According to the survey, to be considered successful, a person had to rate their current life as a seven or higher and their expected future as an eight or higher.
During the survey period, married people consistently reported their happiness levels to be higher than their unmarried and unmarried counterparts, with the findings ranging from 12% to 24% depending on the year.
The gap persisted even when researchers controlled for factors such as age, race, ethnicity, gender and education, according to the survey results.
Education is a strong predictor of happiness, but data showed that married adults who did not attend high school rate their lives more favorably than unmarried adults with a college education.
“Things like race, age, gender and education matter. But marriage seems to matter more than those things when it comes to something like this indicator of your best life,” comments Bradford Wilcox, professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
“We are social animals. And as Aristotle said, we are hardwired to communicate,” he added.
Perhaps the happiness associated with marriage has something to do with what people expect from it, said Ian Kerner, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“In my practice over the past decade, I have noticed a gradual shift from “romantic marriage” to “companionate marriage,” which means that people are increasingly choosing spouses from the outset who are more like best friends than passion partners,” emphasizes Kerner.
While this can lead to problems with attraction, it also means these people choose partners based on qualities that can promote long-term stability and satisfaction, he said.
“At a minimum, the concept of commitment involves experiencing a connection with another person. At its best, it means being connected to someone who is a permanent, secure home who will be there for you in the face of any adversity,” says Dr. Monica O'Neill, a Boston psychologist.
According to Jonathan Rothwell, we can learn a lot from this data, but it's hard to say whether marriage causes higher levels of happiness.
It's possible that people who have qualities that tend to lead to more lasting happiness are also those who would like to get married, the survey says.
“We also know that for men, at least, there is a bonus associated with marriage in terms of higher income,” Rothwell points out. “There is a lot of debate in the literature about whether this is because men who are more successful, charming, intelligent, and have the qualities that would allow them to earn more in the labor market are more likely to marry.”
However, the quality of marriages can vary depending on individual circumstances, changes in society and cultural views of marriage, he added.
For example, in communities where marriage is often a practical necessity, the data show a smaller impact on happiness than in those where people feel more able to choose their status and partner, Rothwell said.
And Monica O'Neill doesn't think being in an unhappy marriage will improve your overall well-being in life. “I still believe that those who have unhappy marriages are probably less happy than those who are single,” she said.
Whether you're married or dating, you can optimize your chances of a happy relationship by being well-communicated about what your commitment to each other entails, O'Neill emphasizes.
“I don't think we'll ever get to the point in social science where we can say with any certainty whether marriage brings happiness,” Rothwell said.