Studies of happiness, relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction in which the same people are followed for years have been piling up for over a decade. A review of 18 of them in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2012 concluded that well-being does not typically improve when people marry. At best, newlyweds enjoy a brief “honeymoon effect” in which they feel a bit more satisfied with their lives at first, but then their satisfaction declines, and they end up feeling as satisfied or dissatisfied as they were when they were single.
The participants in the Swiss study reported their life satisfaction every year, and Professor Kalmijn found that people who married did become a little more satisfied. Over time, their satisfaction eroded, though much more slowly than in most previous studies of marriage. Dr. Kalmijn also examined the implications of divorce and found that people who divorced became significantly less satisfied with their lives. In fact, the negative implications of divorce for life satisfaction were more than three times greater than the positive implications of marrying.
That’s important. It helps explain why so many of us have been so sure for so long that marriage makes people happier and healthier. In the typical study, only people who are currently married are included in the married group. Then, if the currently married people do better than people who are not married, single people are told that if they get married, they will do better, too. But many people who marry — probably more than 40 percent — divorce and end up less happy than when they were single. A better way to assess the likely implications of marriage is to compare everyone who ever married to people who never married. Very few studies ever do that.
Imagine that a pharmaceutical company, in testing a new drug, found that 40 percent of the people on the drug refused to keep taking it. Then imagine that…