Being married has a lifelong effect on how content people are, according to a new study that investigated people’s levels of well-being based on their marital status.
Researchers Shawn Grover and Dr. John Helliwell of the Vancouver School of Economics in Canada also found that an even greater sense of well-being was reported by people who think of their spouse as their best friend.
For the study, data about the interaction between marriage and friendship was gathered from the long-term British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which was collected from around 30,000 people between 1991 and 2009, and the United Kingdom’s Annual Population 2011 to 2013 Survey, which involved more than 328,000 people.
After analyzing the data, researchers found that married people were more satisfied with life than singles. Those living as a couple, but not married, also were more satisfied than singles.
This satisfaction with life wasn’t only true in the so-called honeymoon phase of a marriage, but persisted into old age, according to the study’s findings.
“Even after years the married are still more satisfied,” said Helliwell. “This suggests a causal effect at all stages of the marriage, from pre-nuptial bliss to marriages of long duration.”
The boost that being married gives to a person was especially noteworthy during middle age, a period in life that is often associated with a drastic dip in well-being, the researchers noted. Unmarried people were found to experience a much deeper dip in their satisfaction with life, according to the study’s findings.
“Marriage may help ease the causes of a mid-life dip in life satisfaction and the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived,” Helliwell said.
The researchers also found that people who are best friends with their partners gain the largest well-being benefit from marriage and living together.
“The well-being benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend,” Helliwell said. “These benefits are, on average, about twice as large for people whose spouse is also their best friend.”
According to the researchers, the happiness that is associated with marriage seems to flow largely through social channels. Friendship could help explain why the benefits of marriage do not change as time goes on, and why one’s partner can often be referred to as a “super-friend,” they said.
The researchers caution that the methods used in this study, and the conclusions drawn, can only be applied to other Western countries where suitable long-term surveys are available.
The study was published in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.