Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Married Parents Really Are Happier

The new Survey of Faith and Family in America conducted for the PBS show Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly asked a national sample of Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Married people are generally happier than unmarried people.” 30% of married parents strongly agreed, while 35% of single parents strongly disagreed. It is not surprising that married people would think married people, as a group, are better off, and unmarried people would not.

The survey itself contains a reality check, though. The respondents were also asked to rate how happy they were themselves. The analysts then compared these self-reports of happiness for the married parents and the single parents. The result:

The married were well over twice as likely to report themselves “completely happy” as the singles, 29% to 11%.

Nearly half of the marrieds (46%), but only a third of the singles (32%), called themselves “very happy.”

Nearly half the singles (44%) chose the next level down, only “fairly happy” to describe themselves.

Only one percent of the marrieds would even call themselves neither happy nor unhappy, and none of them said they were unhappy. By contrast, over ten times that many singles (11%) called themselves less than definitely happy.

While singles don’t want to believe that married people are happier, their own reports of their feelings shows that the marrieds are really happier – and know it.


Brendan said...

I wonder about the methodology of the survey. Was it door-to-door, phone, or mail-in? There may be no way to get this data, but I'd be very curious to see how the "happiness" responses stack up when divided according to whether the respondent's spouse was present. I know that even if I were unhappy in my hypothetical marriage, I'd be less likely to say so outright in front of my wife.

Anonymous said...

I like to give an emphatic Amen to the survey. Marriage is not a fairy tail, or a film script, but I think God that I am married to a wonderful lady whom I love. If you marry your best friend its hard to go wrong. And no my wife is not present while I write this.

Anonymous said...

Sorry typo I thank God.

Gruntled said...

How about the fairy tail? (A funny image :) )

Tom Strong said...

I don't know. This seems fraught with problems to me.

1) As Brendan says, there may be a level of bias in the poll. In fact, as the polling method was by phone, I think that is highly likely.

2) There also doesn't seem to be any distinction between "singles" and people who are partnered without being married, or who are in nontraditional arrangements. Without this distinction, all you have is "married" versus "single," which is a false dilemma.

3) Finally, your interpretation presumes that happiness is conditional - that being married _makes_ one happy for instance. But it could very well be that happy people are more likely to get married - or furthermore, _stay_ married. If true happiness comes from within, as they say, marriage may very well be a symptom of it rather than a cause.

On the other hand, this struck me:

"Only 34% of evangelical Christians and 30% of traditional Catholics say that divorce is a sin."

Since Jesus pretty explicity called divorce a no-no, that seems pretty shocking to me. I mean, I know evangelicals and Catholics get divorces as often as they get abortions, but one would think that they at least would continue to pretend it's a sin.

Gruntled said...

In the "demographics" page, they define "non-traditional" and single parent, not just single -- that is what I was going on.

There is always a question of selection bias -- do happier people marry in the first place. Other studies, which follow the same people over time, do support the idea that marriage does help people become and stay happy.

The sin question is very interesting. I think if they had asked, "Do you think divorce is a bad idea?" they would have gotten more agreement. I think many people simply don't want to call anything a sin, even if they strongly disapprove and would never do it themselves.

Tom Strong said...

In the "demographics" page, they define "non-traditional" and single parent, not just single

Yes, but the polling data on happiness doesn't account for that - at least, not that I can find. The question of "how happy or unhappy you are" is divided simply between "traditional" and "nontraditional". Single people make up most of the "nontraditional", and there is good reason to believe they are less happy than partnered people who aren't married. That probably skews the data somewhat.

Gruntled said...

My previous comment should have read "In the "demographics" page, they define "non-traditional" as [rather than "and"] single parent, not just single." I think this means they really are making an apples to apples comparison -- married parents vs. single parents, not just to single people in general.

I have requested the data, and will try to do a fuller analysis in future.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget the 50-60% divorce rates... I guess those guys who got their ass raped in divorce settlements are "singles" now. Bet they're happy singles too.

Gruntled said...

Bet they're not. Divorce rarely makes people happy -- it just removes one particular source of misery.