Love & Money: Married couples are happier than everyone else, especially in middle age

Love & Money is a MarketWatch series looking at how money issues impact our relationships with significant others, friends and family.

Married couples are happier than everyone else, whether they’re single, divorced, widowed or separated, according to a new study published by The Office for National Statistics in the UK.

­­­The study analyzed data from 286,059 people between October 2017 to September 2018 and found that marital status, their health and economic activity were the top three things people said made them most happy.

• ­­Married couples rated their life satisfaction 9.9% higher than widows and widowers.

• Married couples were 8.8% happier than higher than divorced or separated people.

• Singles, however, only reported being 0.2% happier than those who are divorced.

They compared these findings to results from the same survey given between 2011 and 2012 and found that marital status matters more to people’s overall life satisfaction today than economic status. This was not the case in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession.

Companionship is critical, said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychologist. “Couples need to do fun things together,” she told MarketWatch. “Having fun on a date night out, or the adventure of vacation facilitates bonding through communication, both verbal and physical.”

People who are middle aged are unhappier than younger and older folk. Researchers reported that life satisfaction is higher on average for younger adults, and drops significantly to its lowest point when people are in their 40s, but spikes again at retirement age.

“Most folks in their 40s are at the peak of their slave years in the workforce with less available time for socializing,” Walfish said. “Many of my married patients throw themselves onto my office therapy couch complaining about feeling lonely because their spouse is ‘always working.’”

Being married helps people in their 40s. “Marriage may help ease the causes of the mid-life dip in life satisfaction,” according to a 2014 paper by researchers at the Department of Finance Canada and University of British Columbia. “The benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived.”

Marriage eases the “middle-age dip in life evaluations” in Western Europe, the U.S. and Asia, they added. But this works better for couples who are also friends. The “well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend,” they found.

See also: When wives earn more than their husbands, their marriage is less likely to last

It’s easier to be single and young, Walfish added. “Younger adults still place ‘having fun’ high on their priority list, while people in retirement age have slowed down and feel increased desire for connection and attachment in their relationship partners,” she said.

What’s more, single people are typically more connected to other people than married people, have more friends and value meaningful work more, according to Bella DePaulo, the author of “Singled Out” and a project scientist at University of California, Santa Barbara.

How married couples spend their money matters. Partners spending money on a shared experiences like vacations or going out to dinner, are more likely to be very satisfied with life than those splurging more on less exciting things like groceries, insurance and cell phones.

Income inequality in a marriage could potentially put a rift in the relationship in some cases, however. Separate research suggests that if a woman makes more money in the marriage, it could make their partner feel uncomfortable, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Less surprisingly, perhaps, those who own their homes outright were reported they were also more satisfied than renters, the latest study said. They are able to share their costs and they have less housing insecurity than people who are living in rented accommodation.

And wives earning more than their husbands has become more common: 38% of wives earn more than their husbands versus less than a quarter of wives 30 years ago, according to United States Census Bureau data.

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