What’s Wrong with Studies and Claims about the Supposed Benefits of Marriage?

What’s Wrong with Studies and Claims about the Supposed Benefits of Marriage?

From the days when I first started reading the original journal articles claiming that marriage is beneficial to your health and well-being, I have been stunned by how flawed most of the studies are, methodologically. More and more laypersons are beginning to understand the problems with these cheater techniques. Professionals who have made a career out of claiming that Marriage Wins will probably be the last to acknowledge these very fundamental flaws.

Here, I want to share some of my critiques. I hope they will help you understand what’s wrong with the studies and the claims about the supposed health and happiness benefits of getting married. Ideally, once you read a few of these, you will know how to assess new studies and new claims, if you don’t already.

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Part 2: Getting Married Makes You Happier? Again, No

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[This post was originally published at Psychology Today. I just discovered that it disappeared! I have no idea why, but I thought I’d just republish it at my own site where I have control over what appears and disappears.]

In my previous post, I explained why no study has ever shown definitively that getting married causes people to become happier – and no study ever will. Here, I will critique the research (an unpublished working paper by Grover and Helliwell) that set off the latest round of matrimaniacal claims that we single people would be happier if only we would get married. The claims the authors are making are unapologetically causal: They think their research shows that getting married causes people to become happier. It doesn’t. The very premise of their claim (that married people are happier, and we just need to figure out if marriage is causing married people’s greater happiness) is undermined by some of their own findings – not that you would have read much about those results in any of the many media stories gleefully declaring a win for Team Marriage.

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Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You

cover, single parents bookI have been scrutinizing the research on single parents and their children for more than a decade. I’ve learned lots of things, but perhaps the most important one is this: all those predictions you hear about how the children of single parents are doomed are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong.

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What We Really Know About Single Life

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Every time I learn about a new claim that getting married makes people happier or healthier or more connected or live longer (and all the rest), I go to the original research report to see what the findings really did say. The media — and sadly, many social scientists — routinely get it wrong. No, getting married does not cause  you to become lastingly happier or healthier or better off in any way than if you stayed single (well, you do get more money because of all the laws and practices that benefit married people and discriminate against singles).

Here (below), you can find links to all my critiques of these studies. I’ll keep adding more as new claims hit the media that I need to debunk. I’ve also put together 2 books of my writings explaining why all those Marriage Wins claims are so wrong. Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong includes a chapter previously available only in an expensive edited volume, a new paper that is the most powerful and comprehensive explanation of what the research does and does not show about the implications of getting married, plus 39 other brief chapters (many from my blogs). Because I think that new powerful and comprehensive paper is so important, I have made it into a stand-alone book (together with an introduction) in The Science of Marriage: What We Know That Just Isn’t So. (Both are available both as paperbacks and as ebooks. You can read more about them here.) My first book, Singled Out, also includes discussions and explanations of what’s wrong with the claims of married people’s superiority.

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The New Science of Living Alone: Here’s a Lot of What We Know

Now that solo living is becoming increasingly popular around the world, we know much more about it than we did before. Below is what I have written on the topic so far. You may also want to take a look at the chapter on living alone in How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.

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Getting Married and (Not) Getting Sex

If you get married, will you get more sex and better sex? So far as I know, a methodologically persuasive study has never been done. That would involve following people over time as they stayed single or got married or got unmarried, and seeing how their sexual behavior and sexual satisfaction changed (or didn’t change) with those transitions. All we have are studies that compare married and single people at one point in time. You can never know from those kinds of studies if any differences really are about being married vs. single or whether they are about any of the many other ways that married and single people differ other than in their marital status. With that qualification, here’s what we know.

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