Here’s one for the single ladies.
Speaking at the Hay Festival this May, behavioural scientist Paul Dolan explained how the latest evidence shows that traditional benchmarks of fulfilment for women for example, marriage and children – don’t line up with happiness. In fact, Dolan said, “the healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
While men tend to benefit from marriage – “you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” says Dolan, he links that this owes to men calming down and reducing their risk-taking behaviour.
As for the calming and unrisky wife, she, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married, he suggests.
“We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say – if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” he said.
While other studies have shown that married people are happier on average, Dolan suggests that those findings could be attributed to higher total household incomes as well as the emotional support which comes with coupledom (rather than any objective benefit to the female partner).
He also suggested that the stigma associated with single women might, in itself, explain some self-reported dissatisfaction – after all, if everyone’s pouring disdain on your life choices, they do become that much harder to stand by.
The data comes from Dolan’s latest book, Happy Ever After, which cites research from the American Time Use Survey.
As he explained at Hay Festival: “married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present, they’re miserable”.
The ATUS statistics showed that unmarried people report ‘lower levels of misery’ than their married counterparts when the latter were asked, without their spouse looking on.