How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness
John F. Helliwell, Shawn Grover
NBER Working Paper No. 20794
Subjective well-being research has often found that marriage is positively correlated with well-being. Some have argued that this correlation may be result of happier people being more likely to marry. Others have presented evidence suggesting that the well-being benefits of marriage are short-lasting. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey, we control individual pre-marital well-being levels and find that the married are still more satisfied, suggesting a causal effect, even after full allowance is made for selection effects. Using new data from the United Kingdom’s Annual Population Survey, we find that the married have a less deep U-shape in life satisfaction across age groups than do the unmarried, indicating that marriage may help ease the causes of the mid-life dip in life satisfaction and that the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived. We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a causal relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend.