A good marriage is the ‘number one predictor of happiness’ for men and women, sociologist says

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Despite a cultural narrative that singles lead happier lives, married Americans report higher rates of happiness than their single counterparts.

A strong marriage is actually “the number one predictor of happiness in America today,” says Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and a fellow at the Institute for Family Studies.

“What we see in the research is that both men and women who are married are almost twice as likely to be happy compared to their fellow Americans who are not married,” he told FOX News Digital.

While higher income, levels of education and sexual frequency are also linked to happiness, having a successful marriage tops them all, he says. For women in particular, marriage is linked to higher levels of satisfaction with one’s life. 

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happy couple

Married men and women were about twice as likely to report being very happy with their lives. (iStock)

The 2022 General Social Survey found 40% of married mothers between the ages of 18 and 55 report being “very happy” with their lives, only 22% of unmarried women with no children and 17% of single mothers, report the same. Wilcox’s organization notes the low rates of happiness reported by single mothers parallel similar findings in 2020 and 2021. 

Married men were also “about twice as likely to be very happy compared to their unmarried peers,” the Institute for Family Studies says. Like single mothers, single fathers were the least likely to report being “very happy” with their lives, according to the same study.

“So we see this kind of marriage paradox where on the one hand, marriage is less common today than it used to be. We’ve seen the marriage rate fall by about 65% since 1970. And it looks like the value of marriage matters maybe even more than ever. So we’ve seen a growing gap between those who are married and those who are not,” Wilcox said.

While the marriage rate has declined drastically in recent decades, Wilcox says the good news is that people are taking a more sober approach to entering into marriage. However, he believes the decline in marriage is in part due to the increased difficulty singles experience of finding partners worthy of marriage.

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A close up shot of a bride and groom holding hands from a top view.

A recent survey of churchgoers found a “substantial gap” between married couples and singles in reported feelings of loneliness. (iStock)

“Fewer adults, I think, are finding someone who’s good for marriage, worthy of marriage, a good fit for them… so that means they’re more likely to struggle with things like loneliness, a sense of meaninglessness and with less happiness,” Wilcox said.

A recent survey of 19,000 churchgoers found “a substantial gap” between married couples and singles in experiencing feelings of loneliness. 

“The most lonely people walking around in our churches, in our communities, are actually not the elderly or widows. It’s men and women in their 30s, who in every other time period — almost every other decade before this century — would have been overwhelmingly likely to be married,” the study’s author, Communio President J. P. DeGance, previously told Fox News Digital.

Instead of casually dating, society needs to encourage younger adults to pursue relationships more seriously and prepare themselves for marriage, Wilcox says.

“One of the things that I encounter here at the University of Virginia, is that a lot of young women feel like they don’t have good prospects for dating, that there aren’t guys out there who are worthy of marriage, or worthy of investing in a serious relationship. And so I think encouraging men to take high school, take college, take their early jobs more seriously, and to become more intentional about their relationships as well, would be part of the answer here,” Wilcox said.

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Happy family

Married mothers and fathers with kids reported higher levels of happiness than single Americans with or without kids, the 2022 General Social Survey found. (iStock)

It’s also important for society to foster the notion that marriage is a permanent commitment and uplift marriage as an institution that needs to be valued and honored. 

His organization says the decline in marriage in lower income and less educated Americans mirrors the lower levels of reported happiness, and the government has a role in changing these troubling trends by eliminating penalties for unmarried couples with kids who decide to marry.

“The blame lies at the federal level, where policymakers have established tax and safety-net benefits over the last six decades that too frequently punish marriage, especially for the working class and poor. Programs like Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for instance, often penalize couples with kids if they marry. The Government must stop making marriage a bad financial bet for lower-income families,” Wilcox wrote with co-author David Bass in a recent article for the UK-based website Unherd.

The bottom line is, despite the difficulties marriage and parenting often bring, both men and women benefit from getting married and starting families, he believes.

“In particular, and contrary to the views articulated by many on social media, the mainstream media, and the American public, marriage and parenthood do not appear to be obstacles to living a happy life,” Wilcox wrote.

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couple on beach

While marriage rates have declined, it remains more valuable than ever for the happiness of individuals and society, sociologist Brad Wilcox argues. (Credit: iStock)

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Wilcox discusses this research in more detail in his book coming out next spring entitled “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization.” He said the book lays out how strong marriages benefit everyone -from kids, to individuals and to society. 

“There are a lot of voices that are encouraging our young adults today to focus more on things like their work or money or, you know, schooling. And what this new book tells us is that actually it’s marriage and a strong family that are most likely to deliver meaning to protect you against loneliness and then also to give you a shot at that classic American pursuit. Of course, that’s the pursuit of happiness,” Wilcox said.

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