Your happiness makes your partner happy – but only if you’re married

New research by University of Warwick researcher Nick Powdthavee reveals that a married man or woman is significantly more satisfied with their life when their partner is satisfied with life. But he has also found almost no evidence of the same affect among couples that prefer cohabitation to marriage.

The research, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s Annual Conference on Tuesday 22 March, examined the widely accepted, but rarely tested, belief that a married person tends to become happier when his or her spouse becomes happier.

Because of this assumption, it is easier to think of marriage as an exchange in which two parties agree to share, not only material possessions but also experiences of good and bad times, as well as other nonmaterial things that matter to individuals’ happiness.

The results from this University of Warwick analysis of life satisfaction data from the 9,704 married individuals in the British Household Panel Survey (1996-2000 and 2002) show that there is a positive and significant effect of spouse’s life satisfaction on the individual’s own life satisfaction.

The estimated effect of spouse’s life satisfaction is also sizeable, as well as statistically significant; a 30% increase in the spouse’s life satisfaction score from the previous year can completely offset the negative impact of unemployment on the respondent’s life satisfaction. It is also significantly greater than the effect of owning one’s home outright, and it is equal to not having to spend around two months in the hospital last year.

The research also carried out the same test for those whom are merely cohabiting. It did not find the same robust evidence of life satisfaction being jointly determined among those couples that prefer cohabitation to marriage. Considering the magnitude of this finding, it may come as a surprise to some people who are used to the assumption that the idea of risk-sharing between couples also applies to partners in non-marital groups.

From University of Warwick

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