Marriage may be most important when there is that stress in life and when things are going wrong…marriage and friendship may be the answer.
Despite the fact that as fewer people are marrying, a new study suggests that remaining single has significant quality of life impacts. Sound and solid marriages are more often found among educated, high-income people, and increasingly difficult for those not similarly blessed. Research now shows that gap seems to affect not just income and intimacy, but also the degree of contentment or ambient stress in the relationship.
Twenty-five percent of modern young adults will have never married by 2030, the highest share in modern history, according to the Pew Research Center. The behaviors of remaining unmarried, or divorcing are more prevalent among the less-educated and lower socioeconomic classes.
The educated, who are typically have higher income, still marry at high rates and are less prone to divorce and separation.
People with life difficulties probably would benefit the most from matrimony, according to the economists who crafted the research, John Helliwell of the Vancouver School of Economics and Shawn Grover of the Canadian Department of Finance.
“Marriage may be most important when there is that stress in life and when things are going wrong,” Mr. Grover said.
Grover analyzed two national surveys on well-being; in the United Kingdom and the Gallup World Poll. In most countries, even when controlling for life satisfaction before matrimony, being married is a source of more happiness. It is important to note however, that this did not hold true in Latin America, South Asia and Southern Africa. Is this social advantage a form of white privilege?
Intriguingly, marital happiness long outlasted the honeymoon period. Though some social scientists have argued that happiness levels are somewhat predetermined. People tend to return to their natural level of well-being after happy or distressing events, but the researchers found that the benefits of marriage persist.
One reason for that might be the role of friendship within marriage. Those who consider their spouse or partner to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as others, the study found.
The effect of friendship seems to be the result of living with a romantic partner, rather than the legal status of being married, because it was as strong for people who lived together but weren’t married. Women benefit more from being married to their best friend than men do, though women are less likely to regard their spouse as their best friend.
Marriage has undergone a drastic shift in the last half century. In the past, as the Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker described, marriage was utilitarian: Women looked for a husband to make money and men looked for a woman to manage the household.
But in recent decades, the roles of men and women have become more similar. As a result, spouses have taken on roles as companions and confidants, particularly those who are financially stable, as the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have discussed.
It is during middle age that the benefits of marital friendship are most compelling. Middle age is a phase in the life cycle when people tend to report a decrease in overall satisfaction, largely due to the attendant stress of juggling career and family obligations. Married subjects, the research revealed, have much shallower dips – even in ares where marital satisfaction is not known to exert a positive impact.
Overall, the research uncovered a concrete reason for a mental health deficit between the rich and poor. While it may be true that people have the capacity to increase their happiness levels, and avoid falling deep into midlife crisis primarily by finding support in long-term relationships, unfortunately, supportive relationships are more elusive for those who are less educated and less wealthy.
Marriage and friendship are increasingly linked, and it looks like there is no going back…
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.