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Study: Marriage associated with boosts in individual, community well‑being

By Jake Beardslee · February 9, 2024

In brief…

  • Married individuals report higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction than unmarried peers.
  • This marital “happiness premium” persists across demographics like race, education level.
  • Metro areas with more married households tend to have greater shares of “thriving” residents.
  • Study finds links between marriage prevalence and individual/community well-being.
Married individuals and communities with higher marriage rates tend to report higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction, according to a new study from Gallup and the Institute for Family Studies.  Emma Bauso/Pexels

A recent report from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and Gallup reveals that married individuals experience greater happiness and well-being compared to their unmarried peers. According to the data spanning 2008 to 2023, married adults aged 25-50 are 17 percentage points more likely to report “thriving” well-being than those who never married.

The analysis shows that “marital status is a stronger predictor of well-being for American adults than education, race, age, and gender.” Married individuals at all education levels and across racial groups evaluate their lives more positively than their unmarried counterparts. While marital status does not necessarily cause increased happiness, the “effect of marriage is high.”

This pattern also emerges at the community level. Areas with higher marriage rates tend to have greater shares of residents reporting high subjective well-being. The IFS analysis found that “an increase of one standard deviation in the Bachelor’s or higher attainment rate (0.09) predicts a 0.49 standard deviation increase in well-being” while “a 5-percentage-point increase in [the share of married households] (1 standard deviation) predicts a 0.9 percentage point increase in the share who are thriving.”

Marriage rates are also predictive of lower rates of “deaths of despair” in a metro area. The study concludes that “in America at least, it looks like well-being ebbs and flows with marriage.”