« Romney to beat Obama | Main | Marriage makes men happy as well as women »

June 08, 2011


"I think there are some hints in these two tables that it’s marriage which causes happiness. Notice that divorced and widowed respondents are as unhappy as the never married (even less happy, in fact). If happy people are the ones getting married, wouldn’t they still be happy people after divorce or death of a spouse?"

Once again, you're jumping to conclusions.

Here is the hypothesis:
People with good characteristics can attract a mate to get married, and thus are more likely to be happy. People who divorced or can't get married in the first place are losers, and losers don't have great lives no matter what.

So when you look at married people you are looking at those that:
1) Had the traits to attract *and keep* a mate.
2) Didn't have negative events that cause them to lose a mate in divorce (a career setback, becoming fat, becoming boring).

That cohort is going to have a better life whether they marry or not.

Getting back to you question:
"wouldn’t they still be happy people after divorce or death of a spouse?"

People usually get divorced because they are having problems, and those problems are usually unhappy things. For instance and man might lose his job so the wife leaves him. A man that loses his job is going to be pretty unhappy, don't you think. The man that keeps his job and thus is wife is of course going to be happier.

Also, divorce is more common in those that struggle. Proles get divorced more then the upper classes, so your survey could simply be skewed by the presence of more prole divorcees.

In addition, divorce implies there may be kids. Both raising kids as a single father, having them taken away when you want them, and having to pay child support will all make a person unhappy. Divorce doesn't imply a guy is just magically single like he was never married in the first place.

Widowers suffer the early loss of a loved one, I'd expect that kind of trauma to make them unhappy. They may also need to raise children on their own.

So nothing can be proven from your survey. There are plenty of biases unaddressed. Isn't it much simpler to look at what the happiest men do. They either:

1) Screw around seducing like George Clooney.
2) Get married but cheat an awful lot (Tiger, Arnold, practically every powerful man).

Ahh but you miss one (maybe) important element.

Are the naturally happy more likely to remain married than the naturally unhappy?

I would argue based on my own personal experience (I am a naturally happy person) that being a naturally happy person almost ensures that you end up in serious relationships more easily and stays in those relationships longer.

Because my natural setpoint is relatively high my partner has to be REALLY shitty before I become generally unhappy with my relationship - it only takes a little bit of good for me to feel generally happy, a lot of bad to feel generally unhappy. People who feel generally happy with their life don't tend to be motivated to change their situation.

I really don't think you've established any kind of cause and effect here. People who are happy may indeed be more likely to end up married, possibly since a third factor causes both like being more religious or higher income or better social skills, etc. And then divorce can make them unhappy.

Also marriage itself could conceivably cause people to be LESS happy than they would have been. Unless you try to control for how happy people are by finding an instrumental variable, or controlling for other factors that may have a causal relation to happiness, there's no way to substantiate marriage as a causal factor.

It would be interesting if this study divided the non-married categories by relationship status. I wonder how the happiness of unmarried people in comparably long-term relationships compares to the happiness of married people.

Great replies.

The comments to this entry are closed.