Being married: What the research shows

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Our wedding was featured in the Tampa Bay Times this weekend.  This got me thinking about the nature of being married.  Fortunately, there is an almost unending amount of research on the subject, some of which is very interesting.

First things first, monogamy is better than polygamy according to a study by Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd & Peter Richerson:

The anthropological record indicates that approximately 85 per cent of human societies have permitted men to have more than one wife (polygynous marriage), and both empirical and evolutionary considerations suggest that large absolute differences in wealth should favour more polygynous marriages. Yet, monogamous marriage has spread across Europe, and more recently across the globe, even as absolute wealth differences have expanded. Here, we develop and explore the hypothesis that the norms and institutions that compose the modern package of monogamous marriage have been favoured by cultural evolution because of their group-beneficial effects – promoting success in inter-group competition. In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide. These predictions are tested using converging lines of evidence from across the human sciences.

Second, those with better jobs tend to have better marriages:

Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study and the Current Population Survey, Kristen Harknett & Arielle Kuperberg find that labor market conditions play a large role in explaining the positive relationship between educational attainment and marriage. Our results suggest that if low-educated parents enjoyed the same, stronger labor market conditions as their more-educated counterparts, then differences in marriage by education would narrow considerably. Better labor markets are positively related to marriage for fathers at all educational levels. In contrast, better labor markets are positively related to marriage for less-educated mothers but not their more-educated counterparts. We discuss the implications of our findings for theories about women’s earning power and marriage, the current economic recession and future studies of differences in family structure across education groups.

Going to college has its implications, also:

Educational expansion has led to greater diversity in the social backgrounds of college students. Kelly Musick, Jennie Brand & Dwight Davis ask how schooling interacts with this diversity to influence marriage formation among men and women. Relying on data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 3,208), we use a propensity score approach to group men and women into social strata and multilevel event history models to test differences in the effects of college attendance across strata. We find a statistically significant, positive trend in the effects of college attendance across strata, with the largest effects of college on first marriage among the more advantaged and the smallest – indeed, negative – effects among the least advantaged men and women. These findings appear consistent with a mismatch in the marriage market between individuals’ education and their social backgrounds.

Did you know that couples are more likely to break-up when the woman is the less happy partner?

Based on three large panel surveys, a paper by Cahit Guven, Claudia Senik and Holger Stichnoth shows that happiness gaps between spouses are a good predictor of future divorce. The effect of happiness gaps is asymmetric: couples are more likely to break-up when the woman is the less happy partner. De facto, divorces appear to be initiated predominantly by women who are less happy than their husband. This asymmetry suggests that the effect of happiness gaps is grounded on motives of relative deprivation (i.e. comparisons of happiness between spouses) rather than on a preference for equal happiness.

With that in mind, homemakers are happier than working women:

A long-standing debate questions whether homemakers or working wives are happier. Drawing on cross-national data for 28 countries, this research uses multi-level models to provide fresh evidence on this controversy. All things considered, homemakers are slightly happier than wives who work fulltime, but they have no advantage over part-time workers. The work status gap in happiness persists even controlling for family life mediators. Cross-level interactions between work status and macro-level variables suggest that country characteristics – GDP, social spending, women’s labor force participation, liberal gender ideology and public child care – ameliorate the disadvantage in happiness for full-time working wives compared to homemakers and part-time workers.

Having a happy honeymoon period isn’t enough to keep a couple together:

Although divorce typically follows an extended period of unhappiness that begins early in marriage, some couples who are very happy throughout the first several years of marriage will also go on to divorce. This study aimed to identify risk factors early in marriage that distinguish initially satisfied couples who eventually divorce from those who remain married. Justin Lavner & Thomas Bradbury identified 136 couples reporting stably high levels of relationship satisfaction in the first 4 years of marriage. We compared the couples who went on to divorce by the 10-year follow-up with the couples who remained married on initial measures of commitment, observed communication, stress, and personality. Divorcing couples displayed more negative communication, emotion, and social support as newlyweds compared with couples who did not divorce. No significant differences were found in the other domains, in relationship satisfaction, or in positive behaviors. Overall, results indicate that even couples who are very successful at navigating the early years of marriage can be vulnerable to later dissolution if their interpersonal exchanges are poorly regulated. We speculate that, paradoxically, the many strengths possessed by these couples may mask their potent interpersonal liabilities, posing challenges for educational interventions designed to help these couples.

Of course, one of the easiest ways to ruin a marriage is to go to jail:

Prior research suggests a correlation between incarceration and marital dissolution, although questions remain as to why this association exists. Is it the stigma associated with “doing time” that drives couples apart? Or is it simply the duration of physical separation that leads to divorce? This research by Michael Massoglia, Brianna Remster & Ryan King utilizes data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) and the Survey of Officer and Enlisted Personnel to shed light on these questions. The findings generally support a separation explanation of the incarceration-divorce relationship.

Fortunately, being married tends to turn folks away from a life of crime:

An impressive body of research has examined the effect of marriage on desistance from a criminal career. Although extensive efforts have been made to control for potential confounders, almost no research has considered the role that genetic influences play in the relationship. In this study, the authors revisited the marriage-desistance connection by analyzing sibling data drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health; Ns ranged between 2,224 and 3,745 siblings) and by using a statistical design that controls for confounding genetic influences. The findings revealed that both marriage and desistance were under genetic influence (h2 = .56 and .49, respectively). In addition, before controlling for shared genetic influences, marriage was predictive of desistance. After genetic influences were controlled, the marriage effect remained statistically significant but was reduced by 60%. The implications of these findings for life course criminology are considered.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.