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How's Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness

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  • Shawn Grover
  • John F. Helliwell

Abstract

Subjective well-being research has often found that marriage is positively correlated with well-being. Some have argued that this correlation may be result of happier people being more likely to marry. Others have presented evidence suggesting that the well-being benefits of marriage are short-lasting. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey, we control individual pre-marital well-being levels and find that the married are still more satisfied, suggesting a causal effect, even after full allowance is made for selection effects. Using new data from the United Kingdom's Annual Population Survey, we find that the married have a less deep U-shape in life satisfaction across age groups than do the unmarried, indicating that marriage may help ease the causes of the mid-life dip in life satisfaction and that the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived. We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a causal relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend. Finally, we use the Gallup World Poll to show that although the overall well-being effects of marriage appear to vary across cultural contexts, marriage eases the middle-age dip in life evaluations for all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Shawn Grover & John F. Helliwell, 2014. "How's Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness," NBER Working Papers 20794, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20794
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w20794.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Andrew E. Clark & Yannis Georgellis, 2013. "Back to Baseline in Britain: Adaptation in the British Household Panel Survey," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 80(319), pages 496-512, July.
    2. Stutzer, Alois & Frey, Bruno S., 2006. "Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 326-347, April.
    3. Frijters, Paul & Beatton, Tony, 2012. "The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 525-542.
    4. Paul Frijters & David W. Johnston & Michael A. Shields, 2011. "Life Satisfaction Dynamics with Quarterly Life Event Data," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 113(1), pages 190-211, March.
    5. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. John F. Helliwell & Lara B. Aknin & Hugh Shiplett & Haifang Huang & Shun Wang, 2017. "Social Capital and Prosocial Behaviour as Sources of Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 23761, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2017. "Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Midlife? Two Approaches (With and Without Controls) in Seven Data Sets," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 337, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    3. John F. Helliwell & Aneta Bonikowska & Hugh Shiplett, 2016. "Migration as a Test of the Happiness Set Point Hypothesis: Evidence from Immigration to Canada," NBER Working Papers 22601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Luca Zanin, 2016. "On Italian Households’ Economic Inadequacy Using Quali-Quantitative Measures," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 59-88, August.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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