Unmarried women without kids are actually happier than their married counterparts according to new research
From the time women are little girls, society feeds them a particular narrative that really needs to die. It’s the idea that eventually, a woman needs to marry and have kids in order to achieve optimum levels of happiness. The most recent generations of women are bucking that trend with the U.S. birth rate the lowest it’s ever been and the marriage rate heading the same way. Maybe these women already know something that science is just starting to understand — that they don’t need a husband and kids to be happy in life.
Behavioral scientist Paul Dolan has some thoughts and hard research on the topic of just how happy women are when they take the more traditional route in life — marrying and having kids. He, um, is pretty blunt. “Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: fucking miserable,” he told the crowd at Hay Fest recently.
Now this isn’t just Dolan operating on a hunch. He says there’s science backing up his claim. “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother.”
Dolan posits that men “calm down” after marrying, which benefits their overall happiness along with that increase in pay that comes from being a married man and the longer lifespan married men tend to enjoy. Women, conversely, “… has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children,” says Dolan.
The scientist’s latest book, Happy Ever After, uses data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which compared happiness levels (and misery levels) in unmarried, married, divorced, separated and widowed individuals. The results? As Dolan says, married couples only reported higher happiness levels if their spouse was physically present. Unmarried folks reported lower levels of unhappiness than their married counterparts when their spouse wasn’t in the room.
He also found that while married men enjoy better health, married women mostly see no change in their own, aside from middle-age women who are at higher risk of physical and mental health issues than single women. So marriage helps most men and hurts some women, more or less.
Dolan points out that although research is proving that being an unmarried woman without kids is the happiest route to take, the stigma associated with those choices often means single women are unhappy anyway — because society is telling them that they should be. Look at what the entire world has put on Jennifer Aniston for the last 25 years or so while male actors her age get none of the ridiculous headlines about their lack of children and spouse. Maybe Aniston knows a thing or two about her own happiness and everyone else should back the hell up.
The researcher sums it all up pretty neatly. “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children – ‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”