Young women around the world dream of love and marriage from an early age. Girls plan out their dream wedding, create names for future children, and imagine their prince charming. Recent studies have concluded that these young girls are right, married women and men are much happier than those who are not. Not only are married people happier, they are healthier, have greater social support and economic stability than their single counterparts. However, this fact brought on additional questions about marriage and happiness. Are married people happier and healthier than the unmarried couple who lives together? What about the unhappy marriage; are couples who are unhappily married better-off than the unmarried individual? It is these questions that gave way to curiosity about love, happiness, and marriage.
Since the 1950’s unwed couples living together have increased dramatically. It is estimated that, “1.2 million people over the age of 50 are currently cohabitating”, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). However, there are two distinct cohabitating trends, young couples who are living together with the expectation of one day marrying and older couples with no expectation of getting married. Unlike the younger cohabitating couple, older couples are more likely to be previously married. As such, grounds for entering cohabitating relationship greatly differ from couples testing the waters before marriage. Studying the cohabitating couple, the fundamental question is, “do these unmarried cohabitating partnerships provide adults with mental health benefits that are similar to those enjoyed by marrieds”, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). The answer to this is no.
A study conducted by Brown, Bulanda, and Lee in 2004, indicated that, “poor and near-poor [individuals] are more likely to be cohabitating than their non-poor counterparts”. This suggest that cohabitating unmarried couples are more likely to live together for the main purpose of economic support. This point rings truth as “cohabitating men are less likely to be working and have smaller incomes than either married or single men”, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). Men are more likely to live with a woman to save money versus for the physiological effects of being close to a loved one or to build or reaffirm a relationship. Waite and Gallagher explained that economic benefits of cohabitating relationships are less beneficial to unwed couples because they are unwed. There is no financial security between the cohabitating couple. Cohabitating couples are less likely to complain to one another about poor spending habits or spend haphazardly. Most cohabitating couples feel that, just as long as the bills are paid, they cannot complain to their partner about how his or her money is spent. However, married couples are more likely to complain about poor spending habits. They have free access to one another’s accounts where money is viewed as, ours versus mine. In addition, married couples tend to discuss spending habits with one another making future plans and investments; whereas cohabitating couples do not show interest in their economic future.
“Supportive relationships can directly influence health by facilitating health-promoting behaviors and decreasing maladaptive coping behaviors,” (Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton, 2001). In 2003 a study conducted by Kristi Williams, research shows that, “being continually unmarried is associated with poorer psychological wellbeing relative to being married”. In addition, the state of being happy, or rather happier than the cohabitating couple or single individual, is that the economic stability and social support observed in marriages is what promotes and encourages happiness. Married couples are more likely to point out bad habits and unhealthy practices, overall encouraging good health. Wives often promote better nutrition by either providing balanced meals for their husbands or discouraging unhealthy eating habits. Lin and Umberson admitted that married couples, “improve health by providing care in the event of illness, allowing the purchase of care and resources, and increased probability of access to health insurance”.
Good health in married couples is further indicated as, “single men drink twice as much as married men”, (Waite & Gallagher, 2010). In addition, married men are more likely to not drink at all compared to single men. The research study provided by Waite and Gallagher also indicated that mortality rates of single men are much higher than married men. Their study showed that mortality in single men is 250% higher than married men and “single women have mortality rates that are 50% higher than married women”, (Waite & Gallagher, 2010). The same study concluded that “9 out of 10 married men and women alive at the age of 48 are alive at the age of 65”. However, “cohabitating couples are less likely to monitor each other’s health”, (Waite & Gallagher, 2010). These numbers undoubtedly prove that married couples are much healthier than single individuals and cohabitating couples.
Social support is an important factor in a marriage. The same is also true for single people and cohabitating couples. However, married people are more likely to have additional and more reliable support from friends and family than the unmarried person. This is seen as married couples have more family relationships for support including in-laws, extended family, and children. The single or cohabitating couple has established friendships rather than family support. In addition, married couples sometimes adopt their spouse’s friends and often encourage friendships with others. However, interestingly enough Kiecolt-Glaser and Newton show that, “women’s support networks often include close friends and relatives as confidantes whereas men typically name their wives as their main source of support and the only person in whom they confide personal problems or difficulties”. Consequently, men are happier married due to the support and confidence they have from the close relationship with their wife. Women, on the other hand, continue to rely on outside sources such as friends and family as a support system.
Relating social support between married couples and cohabitating couples, “social support experienced by cohabiters versus marrieds show that cohabiters report less support” from their partner, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). Furthermore, “wives are five times less likely than single or divorced women to be victims of crime”, (Waite & Gallagher, 2010). Waite and Gallagher suggest that this is due to the married couple’s habit for looking out for their spouse’s well-being and concern. Married couples are more likely to provide advice, discourage their spouse from participating in dangerous situations, and warn each other about risks. Consequently, being married and having a family will discourage risky behaviors that may cause harm or danger. However, cohabitating couples are willing to take risks and act impulsively. They do not seek approval from their mate about personal and recreational activities that may cause harm. Married couples have better communication with one another discussing factors and behaviors that encourage safety.
The research clearly indicated that married couples are at a greater advantage than cohabitating couples when comparing economic stability, social support, and health. Although cohabitating couples do not have a rewarding and fulfilling relationship observed in married couples, cohabitating couples are happier and less depressed than unmarried and single individuals. “Cohabiters tend to report lower levels of depression and higher levels of happiness than singles”, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). Cohabiters are happier and have more self-fulfilling lives than the single individual, however, “the higher levels of depression among cohabiters versus marrieds reflect the greater instability characterizing cohabiting relationships”, (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2004). Happily married and unhappily married couples greatly influence test results when compared to the happiness of singles. The results indicated that, “troubled marriages are reliably associated with increased distress, and unmarried people are happier, on the average than unhappily married people”, (Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton, 2001).
Conducting research on the happiness and fulfilling lives of married couples iterate the sanctity and importance of marriage. One would conclude that cohabitating couples would have a fulfilling and rewarding life, however the research indicated otherwise. “Marriage offers unique institutional, economic, and psychosocial benefits that cannot be obtained from other types of relationships (such as cohabitation)”, (Lin & Umberson, 2008). Cohabitating does not provide the legalities observed in marriage. In marriage, there is no separation of property, money, or social status. There is less stress associated with marriage as 40% of married couples have sex a minimum of two times a week compared to 20% of single men and women, (Waite & Gallagher, 2010). Marriage allows couples to have genuine concern for one another and there is little to no fear of rejection that can be observed. With marriage on the decline, divorce on the rise, and cohabitating becoming increasingly popular, the fundamentals of marriage is being lost amongst the numbers and statistics. Waite and Gallagher demonstrated that “86% of married people who rated their marriages as unhappy and stayed together, rated the marriage as having improved 5 years later”. The evidence is proof in its self, that married couples are happier and lead fulfilling and successful lives versus cohabitating couples and singles. With this evidence, singles and cohabitating couples might want to reconsider their life choice and decide instead to take an oath and commit themselves to a lasting and rewarding relationship.
Brown, S., Bulanda, J., & Lee, G. (2004). The significance of nonmarital cohabitation: Marital status and mental health benefits among middle aged and older adults. Center for Family and Demographic Research, Retrieved from http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/cas/file35393.
Kiecolf-Glaser, J., & Newton, T. (2001). Marriage and health: His and hers. Psychological Bulletin, 126(4), 472-503.
Lin, H., & Umberson, D. (2008). The times they are a changin’: marital status and health differentials from 1972-2003. Journal of Health Social Behavior, 49(3), 239-253.
Waite, L., & Gallagher, M. (2010). The case for marriage: why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York, NY: Broadway Books. Retrieved from http://newenglandsingles.com/media_pr_files/The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially.pdf
Williams, K. (2003). Has the future of marriage arrived? a contemporary examination of gender, marriage, and psychological well being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44(4).