Will the Declining Marriage Rate in the United States Affect the Country’s Overall Happiness Level?

First a fact: In National Opinion Research Center surveys of nearly 50,000 randomly sampled Americans since 1972, some 23 percent of never-married and 40 percent of married folks have declared themselves “very happy.” This marriage-happiness correlation seems partly a reflection of happier people being more socially attractive and enjoying more stable relationships, and partly a result of marriage being one main way of satisfying the human “need to belong”—to bond in close, intimate, supportive relationships. We are social animals, made for social connections. Thus, across individuals and across places, marriage is associated with health and wealth, as well as happiness. Show me a neighborhood with a high marriage rate, and I’ll likely show you a neighborhood where people are flourishing, and with stable co-parenting and a low rate of crime and delinquency (even after controlling for income).

Is marriage the only way to meet our need to belong? Of course not. Is marriage sometimes toxic? Of course. Are there multiple routes to happiness? Indeed. Nevertheless, on balance, would the world be a happier and healthier place, and would children more often thrive, if sex, love, and marriage more routinely and enduringly went together? The evidence suggests yes, and that’s part of the inclusive argument that Letha Dawson Scanzoni and I offer in What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage.

David Myers is a social psychologist at Hope College.

Category: Q&A


Leave a Reply