Magazine article Insight on the News

Marital Bliss May Be the Best Investment

Magazine article Insight on the News

Marital Bliss May Be the Best Investment

Article excerpt

Two economists have calculated the costs of separation and divorce, part of their study on the state of happiness in England and America. A good marriage, they say, means big savings.

Money may not buy you love, but true love is worth a lot of money, say two economics professors who have calculated that a lasting marriage is like money in the bank.

David G. Blanchflower, professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and Andrew J. Oswald, an economics professor at Warwick University in the United Kingdom, argue that family disruptions are costly, both emotionally and financially. Specifically, they said, someone would need to earn an extra $100,000 a year to compensate for being separated -- the worst scenario for happiness -- and earn an extra $90,000 a year to compensate for getting divorced. Conversely, being in a lasting marriage is like getting a $100,000 bonus a year.

The pair base their findings on national surveys taken between 1972 and 1998 that asked 100,000 people about their "happiness" and "life satisfaction." The University of Chicago's General Social Surveys of the United States, for instance, asks 1,500 persons a year questions such as, "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days -- would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?" In England, Oswald uses the Eurobarometer Surveys, which collects similar information on about 60,000 Britons.

In their report, released in November, the professors found that:

* Happiness levels follow a U-shape, rising in youth, declining in middle age, bottoming out at age 40 and rising again.

* The happiest people are women, married couples, the highly educated and those whose parents did not divorce.

* American whites are significantly more happy than American blacks -- 21 percent of blacks are "not too happy" compared with 11 percent of whites. However, happiness is trending up for blacks and down for whites, so the gap is narrowing.

* Women are happier than men, but this is changing: The number of "very happy" women fell from 36 percent in 1972 to 29 percent in 1998. Meanwhile, men's happiness is trending upward.

* Adults whose parents divorced have lower levels of well-being than other adults even if the divorce occurred decades ago.

* Cohabiting women are happier than single women but markedly less happy than married women.

* Being unemployed brings almost the same level of unhappiness as being divorced.

* Second marriages appear to be less happy than first marriages. …

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