Don’t Buy The Latest Marriage Study

Written by Michael Cummings on May 30, 2019

As readers may know, I am a big supporter of marriage and families to the point that sometimes Mrs. Cummings has to reign me in a bit when I get on my soapbox to single people – even ones I barely know. (Or strangers, I’m not picky about my personal crusade to make more married people.)


I believe the purpose of life is to get to heaven. To do so, we must be good people. To be good people, we have to serve others. While we can serve others in a variety of capacities, one of the best and most effective ways to make us better human beings is to marry and have children. This doesn’t mean single people are bad; I’m talking about playing the odds.

This topic goes beyond a person’s moral character since in my view a married person with strong character and solid values (based mostly on Biblical principles) tends to be happier. Not stress or trouble free, just happier. So you can imagine my skepticism when I see this (emphasis mine):

We may have suspected it already, but now the science backs it up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population. And they are more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to a leading expert in happiness.

Speaking at the Hay festival on Saturday, Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

“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: fucking miserable,” he said.

“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.”

Men benefited from marriage because they “calmed down”, he said. “You take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer. She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children,” he said.

Dolan’s latest book, Happy Ever After, cites evidence from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which compared levels of pleasure and misery in unmarried, married, divorced, separated and widowed individuals. The study found that levels of happiness reported by those who were married was higher than the unmarried, but only when their spouse was in the room. Unmarried individuals reported lower levels of misery than married individuals who were asked when their spouse was not present.

Other studies have measured some financial and health benefits in being married for both men and women on average, which Dolan said could be attributed to higher incomes and emotional support, allowing married people to take risks and seek medical help.

However, Dolan said men showed more health benefits from tying the knot, as they took fewer risks. Women’s health was mostly unaffected by marriage, with middle-aged married women even being at higher risk of physical and mental conditions than their single counterparts.

Despite the benefits of a single, childless lifestyle for women, Dolan said that the existing narrative that marriage and children were signs of success meant that the stigma could lead some single women to feel unhappy.

“You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children – ‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”

What does this mean: “She, on the other hands, has to put up with that.”? Admittedly, wives have to put up with a lot from husbands, but the opposite is also true. Or are wild mood swings a figment of my imagination? And are we to believe husbands and wives only tell the truth about their happiness when their spouses aren’t in the room?

As you can see, this “study” and the author seem to point to multiple and contradictory conclusions, and I’m not buying any of it.

Seek a good person to marry, have as many children as you can, and don’t wait until your thirties or forties to do so.

Michael Cummings
Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.