The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Happy Married Brits


Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King


As part of its “Beyond GDP Initiative,” which seeks to assess indicators of both personal and economic well-being, The Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom conducts periodic surveys of the British populace to see what kinds of things (money, family, employment levels, etc.) make for a happier nation.

The most recent of these surveys—entitled “Personal and economic well-being: what matters most to our life satisfaction?”—highlights marriage and family as key indicators of who is happiest in the UK. Using data from the Annual Population Survey and the Effects of Taxes and Benefits datasets, the researchers conducted regression analyses on a final sample of 286,059 who were polled during the period of October 2017 to September 2018. 

They find that “Self-reported health, marital status and economic activity have the strongest associations with how positively we rate our life satisfaction,” with health coming in as the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. A close second, however, is marriage. “People who are married,” the statisticians find, “or in a civil partnership rate their life satisfaction higher—in particular, 9.9% higher than those who are widowed, and 8.8% higher than those separated from a partner.” And while more and more media outlets are praising the glories of the single life, singles in Britain report being only 0.2% happier than those who are divorced.

Also interesting is that, in spite of decades of research that seems to indicate that couples with young children in the home are less happy than those without, “those living with dependent children have 1.25 times greater odds of reporting higher life satisfaction.” Certainly, the parameters of this survey and the research demonstrating that children make married people unhappy may be too different for comparison. But it seems notable nonetheless that those with children living with them report a greater life satisfaction than those without—whether it’s due to happiness, or simply to a greater sense that one’s life matters to someone.

Another interesting point, which may be useful to individual families, is that those Brits who are able to spend more money on experiences (restaurants, vacations, etc.) report being happier than both those who spend more on necessities (food, rent, utilities) and also happier than those who spend more on luxury items (clothes, cars).  Having shared experiences with loved ones matters more to life satisfaction than having nice things—a finding that many families could learn from.

(Gueorguie Vassilev et al., “Personal and economic well-being: what matters most to our life satisfaction?” Office of National Statistics, United Kingdom, May 15, 2019, available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/personalandeconomicwellbeingintheuk/whatmattersmosttoourlifesatisfaction#most-important-factors-affecting-life-satisfaction.)