Happiness and Marriage
Last week’s podcast was “Why Marry, Part 1“; Part 2 will be released tomorrow (well, we usually release new episodes around midnight, so depending on where you live, Part 2 may be released today.) In Part 1, Justin Wolfers explained how marriage has shifted from a model of “production complementarities” to a model of hedonic marriage. Psychology professor Eli J. Finkel writes in The New York Times that we’re also in an age of “all-or-nothing” marriages — where expectations of happiness in marriage are high:
Consider, for example, that while the divorce rate has settled since the early 1980s at around 45 percent, even those marriages that have remained intact have generally become less satisfying. At the same time, consider the findings of a recent analysis, led by the University of Missouri researcher Christine M. Proulx, of 14 longitudinal studies between 1979 and 2002 that concerned marital quality and personal well-being. In addition to showing that marital quality uniformly predicts better personal well-being (unsurprisingly, happier marriages make happier people), the analysis revealed that this effect has become much stronger over time. The gap between the benefits of good and mediocre marriages has increased.
How and why did this divergence occur? In answering this question, I worked with the psychologists Chin Ming Hui, Kathleen L. Carswell and Grace M. Larson to develop a new theory of marriage, which we will publish later this year in a pair of articles in the journal Psychological Inquiry. Our central claim is that Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership. If they are not able to do so, their marriage will likely fall short of these new expectations. Indeed, it will fall further short of people’s expectations than at any time in the past.