Study: Married people, especially best friends, most content throughout life

VANCOUVER — The grass might seem greener on the other side when hitched individuals reminisce about life before marriage. But a new study finds that people who are married — especially those who consider their spouses their best friend — are more content with their lives than people who are single.

Researchers from the Vancouver School of Economics examined data on more than 358,000 people across two British surveys. One survey followed participants between 1991 and 2009, assessing the well-being and life satisfaction levels of respondents. Married couples also reported the level of friendship they shared with their spouse.

Older happy couple
A new study finds that married people, especially those who are best friends, show the highest levels of satisfaction throughout life. (Photo by Lotte Meijer on Unsplash)

The other survey was a larger annual poll of the UK population that also measured for contentment.

The authors revealed that married individuals were more satisfied in life than singles — a finding that held true whether one was a newlywed still enjoying the “honeymoon phase” of marriage or if they’d been wedded for decades.

“Even after years the married are still more satisfied,” says co-author John Helliwell in a news release. “This suggests a causal effect at all stages of the marriage, from pre-nuptial bliss to marriages of long-duration.”

People who lived together as a couple, but weren’t married, also saw similar levels of contentment.

Interestingly, people who shared a deep friendship with their partners reported significantly larger levels of happiness than spouses who didn’t enjoy such a bond. That’s because data showed that how happy one felt in marriage often correlated to social support.

“The well-being benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend,” says Helliwell. “These benefits are on average about twice as large for people whose spouse is also their best friend.”

The researchers found that the results were particularly notable during middle age, when life satisfaction and well-being tends to decrease among people. Participants who remained single showed a much larger drop in contentment and well-being during this period, compared to married couples.

“Marriage may help ease the causes of a mid-life dip in life satisfaction and the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived,” says Helliwell.

The researchers believe that middle age was easier for spouses because of the ability to lean on the other and have a built-in support system during tougher times. That finding may shed light on why people who aren’t married, but live with their partner still report similar levels of satisfaction as married people.

The study’s findings were published this week in the Journal of Happiness Studies.


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