Arthur K. Robertson and Roger B. Petersen
Comedian and television pioneer, Milton Berle (1989, 399) stated: “Half of the jokes in the history of the world have been about married people.” Examine three examples:
“I have no trouble meeting expenses. My husband is always introducing me to them.”
“Married men do not live longer than single men—it just seems longer.”
“My husband and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”
Did you notice the underlying assumptions of reduced wealth, health, and happiness for married couples? These assumptions are not only mildly malicious but also fully fallacious. Numerous studies have confirmed that the covenant of marriage has an abundance of benefits across several arenas.
Married Couples are Wealthier
A 2018 report in the Journal of Financial Planning studied the financial implications of cohabitation among young adults. It concluded: “By delaying or opting out of marriage in early years, couples may be less financially prepared for retirement in later years. . . . Cohabitors have lower net worth and financial asset accumulation than married respondents” (Britt-Lutter, Dorius, and Lawson 2018, 1). How much lower?
Julia Carpenter (2022), a writer for the Wall Street Journal, examined data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (see Aldo and Ricketts 2019). She writes “As of 2019, the median net worth for cohabitating couples age 25 to 34 was $17,372, a quarter that of the $68,210 for married couples of that same age range.” Her drop head proclaims: “Married couples are four times as wealthy as unmarried couples who live together.”
There are several reasons for their increased wealth including home ownership and higher salaries. “Men tend to become more economically productive after marriage; they earn between 10 and 40 percent more than do single men with similar education and job histories” (Wilcox 2009, 87). Married men tend to be in higher paying job grades. They also receive higher performance ratings than single men which results in a greater likelihood of promotion to an even higher pay grade (Korenman and Neumark 1991, 303).
In another study of people approaching retirement, the authors concluded that people who were not continuously married had significantly lower wealth than those who remained married throughout their lifetime (Wilmoth and Koso 2002, 254). Cohabitors who never married had a 78% reduction in wealth compared to those who are continuously married (Wilmoth and Koso 2002, 261). Stated in another way: married couples had over four times the wealth as those who never married. And their married future looks even brighter: a 2015 study in the Review of Economics of the Household determined that “as duration of marriage increases so does wealth” (Zissimopoulos, Karney and Rauer 2015, 1).
The marital status of parents can also have a profound effect on the economic status of their children. By the age of 17, 88% of children in nonmarried households have experienced at least one year of poverty versus 22% of children in married households (Rank and Hirschl 1999, 1064). In addition 52% of children in nonmarried households have experienced at least one year of dire poverty where the living conditions are extreme, severe, and debilitating (Rank and Hirschl 1999, 1066).
Married Couples are Healthier
The comedians were wrong! Married men do live longer than single men (Shmerling 2016), about nine years longer (Wilcox 2017). Marriage is the health equivalent to not smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Married women also live longer than single women (Shmerling 2016). In addition, married couples not only have a longer life, they also have a healthier life.
A 2016 study published by Harvard Medical School (Shmerling 2016) mentions “the growing body of evidence linking marriage with better health” and reports that compared with those who are single, those who are married tend to
- have a stronger immune system,
- have fewer strokes and heart attacks,
- survive a major operation more often,
- be less likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis,
- be more likely to survive cancer for a longer period of time.
Married Couples are Happier
Compared to unmarried people, married couples are not only in better physical health, but also in better mental and emotional health. They are less stressed and less likely to become depressed (Wilcox 2017, Shmerling 2016).
- Bradford Wilcox (2017) is the director of the National Marriage Project, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. He surveyed young men between the ages of 20 and 38 and asked them this question: “Are you very happy in life?” The men who were married said “Yes” to this question twice as often as the single or cohabiting men.
Women who are married are also happier than those who are not. Brenden Case and Ying Chen (2023,C 3) studied 11,830 American nurses, all women and initially never married. They compared those who got married between 1989 and 1993 with those who remained unmarried. They assessed how their lives turned out on a wide range of outcomes after 25 years. “Our findings were striking” they reported. Compared to the women who did not marry, the women who did marry in the initial period
- had a 35% lower risk of death for any reason,
- had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease,
- were less depressed and lonely,
- had a greater sense of purpose and hope, and
- were happier and more optimistic.
Case and Chen called the effect of marriage on their study group’s health and well-being “profound.”
Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz (2023, 97) examined the world’s longest scientific study of happiness. They concluded, “The frequency and the quality of our contact with other people are the two major predictors of happiness.” In particular, the more time people spent with their partners, the more happiness they experienced. “This was true across all couples but especially true for those in satisfying relationships.”
And what of those couples in unsatisfying relationships? There is still good news. Longitudinal studies reveal that two out of three unhappily married adults who stayed married and did not get divorced became happily married within five years (Waite et al. 2002, 5).
The studies in this report show that those who have entered the covenant of marriage and stayed committed are wealthier, healthier, and happier. It’s no joke.
Aldo, Fenaba R., and Lowell R. Ricketts. 2019. “As Fewer Young Adults Wed, Married Couples’
Wealth Surpasses Others’.” In the Balance, (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, January 1,2019). https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/in-the-balance/2018/as-fewer-young-adults-wed.
Berle, Milton. 1989. Milton Berle’s Private Joke File. Edited by Milt Rosen. New York: Crown.
Britt-Lutter, Sonya,Cassandra Dorius, and Derek Lawson. 2018. “The Financial Implications of
Cohabitation Among Young Adults.” Journal of Financial Planning 31, no. (April): 38–45.
Carpenter, Julia. 2022. “Moving In Together Doesn’t Match the Financial Benefits of Marriage,
But Why?” Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/moving-in-together-doesnt-match-the-financial-benefits-of-marriage-but-why-11667761626.
Case, Brendan, and Ying Chen. 2023. “For Long-Term Health and Happiness, Marriage Still
Matters.” Wall Street Journal, March 18-19, 2023.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 2019. “Married Households Are Wealthier than Other Young
Adults.” On the Economy (blog), January 21, 2019. https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2019/january/married-couples-wealthier-other-young-adults.
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Commitment with the Wisdom of God. London: Penguin Books.
Korenman, Sanders, and David Neumark. 1991. “Does Marriage Really Make Men More
Productive?” The Journal of Human Resources 26, no. 2 (Spring,): 282-307.
Rank, Mark R. and Thomas A. Hirschl. 1999. “The Economic Risk of Childhood in
America: Estimating the Probability of Poverty across the Formative Years.” Journal of Marriage and Family 61, no. 4 (November): 1058-1067.
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Shmerling, Robert H. 2016. “The Health Advantages of Marriage.” Men’s Health (blog). Harvard
Health Publishing, November 30, 2016, https://www.health. harvard.edu/blog/the-health-advantages-of-marriage-2016113010667.
Linda J. Waite, Linda J., Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott
M. Stanley. 2002. Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages. New York: Institute for American Values
Waldinger, Robert, and Marc Schulz. 2023. The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest
Scientific Study of Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Wilcox, W. Bradford, ed. 2009. “The Surprising Economic Benefits of Marriage.” The State of
Our Unions: Marriage in America 2009 (The National Marriage Project and the Institute of American Values, December): 86-89. http://www.stateofourunions.org/2009/ SOOU2009.pdf.
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Wilmoth, Janet, and Gregor Koso. 2002. “Does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and
Wealth Outcomes among Preretirement Adults.” Journal of Marriage and Family Vol. 64, no. 1 (February): 254-268.
Zissimopoulos, Julie M., Benjamin R. Karney, and Amy J. Rauer. 2015. “Marriage and Economic
Well-Being at Older Ages.” Review of Economics of the Household 13, no. 1: 1–35.