Sunday, March 22, 2009

Women and marriage: Doesn't it seem that never-married women get grumpier as they get older? The stereotype of the mean nun comes to mind. My wife tells me that life hardens a woman but a good man softens her. Let's look at GSS data to see if there is a difference among women of various marital statuses as they age. Respondents were asked how happy they are in general, and the possible answers are "very happy" (1), "pretty happy" (2), and "not very happy" (3). I calculated the means, and what we actually have here is a scale of unhappiness.

Mean sadness scale--women

Ages 18-24
Married 1.72
Divorced 2.01
Separated 2.24
Never married 1.88

Even at these very young ages, married women are the happiest group. On the other hand, young women in a failed relationship are not as happy as those who did not marry.

Ages 25-29
Married 1.65
Divorced 2.00
Separated 2.17
Never married 1.91

At this age range, married women have gotten a bit happier. The other groups are about the same. The mean sadness for the married group is about four-tenths of a standard deviation lower than for the never-marrieds.

Ages 30-34
Married 1.65
Divorced 1.99
Separated 2.02
Never married 1.98

Never-marrieds are now as unhappy as women who have been through the trauma of a broken marriage. The married/never-married gap is now one-half a standard deviation. I'll dispense with the older ages since the pattern holds.

So, marriage and happiness for a female go hand-in-hand starting at the earliest ages. Don't say that marriage is risky because it might not work out and then you'll be miserable. You'll be miserable anyway.


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    "Don't say that marriage is risky because it might not work out and then you'll be miserable. You'll be miserable anyway."

    Misery loves company!

  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Or the happier you are, the more likely you are to get, and remain, married.

  3. For what it's worth, the numbers are practically identical with men. Don't know why this was limited to just women.

  4. Anonymous8:49 PM

    For men, marriage is dangerous because a divorce carries a HUGE financial risk in terms of alimony...

  5. Anonymous2:28 PM

    Did you look at higher ages?

  6. Anonymous11:48 AM

    Is this a snapshot of the latest year you had data for? It might be worth looking at historical data.


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