Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Are happy people more likely to get married or does marriage make them happy?
If marriage increases happiness, why is the divorce rate so high?
Can you be single and happy or do you need a soulmate to be in bliss?
Married people are happier than non-married people, or so most of the research on the subject has suggested. But does marriage really make people happier, or are happier people just more likely to get married?
This is something social scientists have argued about for some time, and a new review of the literature published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that there really is a causal relationship between marriage and happiness. And the happiest of the happily ever after, conclude authors John F. Helliwell and Shawn Grover, are people who married their best friend.
Helliwell and Grover used the Gallup World Poll and a pair of nationwide surveys in the U.K. to analyze the link between well-being and marriage, and they found that married people are still more satisfied with their lives than single people after premarital well-being is controlled for.
Even as people reach their 40s and 50s, when happiness tends to decrease before picking back up later in life – we know this as the mid-life crisis – marriage seems to have a protective effect.
Helliwell and Grover write:
“We find that the married have a less deep U-shape in life satisfaction across age groups than do the unmarried, indicating that marriage may help ease the causes of the mid-life dip in life satisfaction and that the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived.”
The researchers conclude that friendship between the couple could help explain the apparent causal relationship between marriage and happiness. Using the British Household Panel Survey, they found that for people who say their partner is their best friend, the well-being effects of marriage are doubled, even when controlling for factors like age, gender, income, health, and premarriage life satisfaction.
Interestingly, this happiness bump seems to also occur for those who are not married but are living together. As we’ve written about before, maybe the key to a good relationship is not to search for your soul mate, but your best pal.