The Happiest People Tend to Be Married

Gallup poll confirms the stat, but the reason behind it is elusive
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2024 5:15 PM CST
The Happiest People Tend to Be Married
   (Getty / PeopleImages)

Disgruntled television husbands like Archie Bunker and Al Bundy didn't paint the picture of marital bliss, but data suggests they were in the minority. In fact, married people continually rate themselves as the happiest, CNN reports. A new Gallup poll released with the Institute for Family Studies looks at data collected between 2009 and 2023 of 2.5 million American adults. When asked how they rate their happiness on a scale of one through 10 (with 10 being most content), married people across race and gender came out on top. "Any way you analyze those data, we see a fairly large and notable advantage to being married in terms of how people evaluate their life," says poll author Jonathan Rothwell. Here's the breakdown:

  • Married men and women ranked their happiness 20 percentage points higher than peers of the same sex who never married.
  • This observation has only grown over time—married adults were 17 percentage points happier than those who never married in 2023, up from 12 points in 2009.
  • Happiness typically links strongly with higher education, but the findings showed that married adults without a high school degree rated their happiness higher than unmarried adults with a graduate degree.
  • While marriage is clearly correlated with happiness, researchers admit they haven't found evidence for causation. "I don't think we're ever going to get to a point in social science where we can say whether or not and with any precision whether marriage causes happiness," Rothwell says.

The Atlantic, meanwhile, takes note of a 2023 study suggesting that Americans' decline in overall happiness is tied to the dropping rate in marriage. Compared to 1980, when 6% of 40-year-olds had never married, the figure today is 25%. Olga Khazan writes that researchers are in two general camps of belief in why married people tend to be happier. The first says it's not marriage that makes these couples happy—it's that happy people get (and stay) married. "Most of the research indicates that the happiest couples marry, not that marriage causes happiness," says demography professor Brienna Perelli-Harris. The second camp believes the act of marriage generates happiness because having a committed partner means built in support and companionship. (A lasting marriage may help ward off dementia.)

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