Studies Show Marriage Increases Happiness, Financial Stability
Across a wide age range, a record number of Americans are remaining single. Recent data shows that the average age for marriage for both men and women now hovers around 30, while a record amount of 40-year-olds have never been married. As a negative cultural view of marriage grows among younger generations, studies show that married individuals are not only happier, but also more financially stable than their single counterparts.
A recent viral TikTok video seems to encapsulate the feelings of many 20-somethings around marriage. It depicts a young woman who has visions of endless household chores and misery if she accepts a marriage proposal. A new study further confirms that almost three quarters of millennials and Gen Zers are worried that weddings are too expensive.
Cultural patterns like these illustrate why the number of Americans who are married by age 25 has plummeted from almost two thirds in 1980 to just 22% today. But it’s not just young people that are sidelining marriage. A Pew study from June found that one quarter of 40-year-olds have never married, a record high number that has skyrocketed since 1980, when just 6% of 40-year-olds were single.
For Americans in their 20s, financial concerns surrounding marriage seem to weigh heavily on their minds. Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, told The Hill in June that “there’s a longer checklist of items you need to complete before you’re considered marriageable,” including having “a ‘real job’ [and] living independently. … All of these milestones take time to achieve, and as we all know, many people aren’t ever going to achieve them.” Taking on the student loans of a potential spouse is another serious consideration that may be holding back some young adults.
However, marriage experts point out that marriage is financially advantageous in numerous ways over being single. “[M]arriage and marital transitions … appear to independently influence the accumulation of wealth in America,” writes Brad Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “Married couples, for instance, benefit from economies of scale that allow them to share housing, food and utilities and devote more of their household income to building wealth.” In addition, “married mothers (18-55) have an average household income of $133,000, compared to $79,000 for their childless, single peers.”
Another clear source of apprehension over marriage is that it will impinge on personal freedom and lead to unhappiness, as the TikTok video and recent cultural trends point to. But data shows that married women with kids are actually happier than unmarried, childless women. As noted by Wilcox and Wendy Wang, director of research at the Institute for Family Studies, “Drawing on data from America’s premier social barometer, the 2022 General Social Survey, 40% of married women between the ages of 18 and 55 with children report being ‘very happy’ with their lives, compared to 22% of unmarried women with no children.”
Studies also show that family life aids in getting people through particularly difficult times. A study on the effect that the COVID pandemic had on family life found that the crisis actually strengthened family cohesion, with 42% of respondents reporting “improved family functioning,” and an addition 48% reporting “stable family functioning.” In contrast, those who lived alone through the pandemic fared worse than those with families.
“During times of adversity and hardship, orientations to family life that emphasize teamwork and personal fulfillment through meeting the needs and wants of the broader family unit — versus fulfillment through meeting the needs and wants of oneself — may provide a unique strength-based asset for families,” write sociologists Allen Barton and Scott Stanley, who conducted the COVID study. “[W]e believe that a cohesive family mindset creates a home in which the sacrifices necessary for the good of the family are not a barrier to one’s happiness but rather another means by which happiness can be realized.”
Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council, concurred, while also pointing to other factors that contribute to negative cultural views of marriage.
“I think there are a few things happening here,” he told The Washington Stand. “A lot of people have seen terrible examples of what marriage is supposed to look like, which understandably discourages them from trying to avoid experiencing what they have seen others experience. Selfish spouses lead to hard marriages which don’t look appealing from the outside.”
“But beyond that, we’re also a culture that devalues sacrifice and commitment in favor of comfort,” Backholm continued. “The pursuit of comfort may feel like a short-term gain for the individual, but it is a long-term loss for the culture. Nothing meaningful has ever been built in comfort. Our cultures, buildings, institutions, and families were all built through sacrifice and work. When you make that sacrifice, you enjoy the benefit of it later. A lot of people look at marriage and think, ‘that looks hard,’ and they’re right. What they’re missing is a view of the world that recognizes the hard things in life are usually the best things.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.