Staying single and child-free is reportedly the key to women living happily ever after

Home / Staying single and child-free is reportedly the key to women living happily ever after

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17th Jun 2019

The gender pay gap is real, tangible, monetary evidence of society’s differentiation of men and women, but it turns out that’s not the only major societal difference between the two genders.

According to Professor Paul Dolan, best-selling author of Happiness by Design and Happy Ever After and head of the Psychological and Behavioural Science department at the esteemed London School of Economics (LSE), there’s also evidence of a happiness and health gap between the two genders when the traditional norms of marriage and children come into the equation.

Speaking to Australia, the professor says that research points to men gaining bigger benefits from marriage than women, with women better off — healthier and happier — staying single. “One of the main themes of my latest book, Happy Ever After, is that some of the rules (social narratives) about how to live do not appear to stack up when we look at the data on happiness. There is a narrative suggesting that “marriage is best” but the data do[es] not really support this; well, certainly not so far as women are concerned.”

“I should make clear,” the professor adds, “that there is huge variation across people and the data do[es] not allow us to establish the causal effects of marriage etc., but I have reached the conclusion from reading the research literature that men have more to gain from marriage and that many single and child-free women are happier and healthier than their married counterparts, and certainly a lot more so than the narrative suggests.”

The professor says this, frankly startling conclusion, is backed by science. “I look at quantitative data from lots of studies and sometimes my own analyses of new and existing data. So my conclusions are based on the balance of evidence from many studies.”

Dolan says the evidence indicates that men are better off than women if they get married and have a family. “It would appear from the evidence that, on average, men have more to gain from marriage than women, especially when it comes to the health effects. In terms of children, one review paper suggests that their effect on life satisfaction is, at best, neutral, with worse impacts for women than men. Time spent with kids is generally not that pleasurable but it does show up as quite purposeful.”

But, before throwing that engagement ring away and committing to a footloose, fancy-free and happily ever after single life, Dolan points out this is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for happiness. “My main point is that there is not one optimal way to live. Each person has to work out what’s best for them. That’s easy to say but very hard to do, especially in a world where single child-free women are often assumed to be lonely and miserable. We need to free ourselves from the “marriage is best” narrative and allow people to make choices that work best for them. This will be an important part of the answer to any question about the optimal way for society to allow women to live long, happy lives.”

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Dolan does note though, that he has found some “universal” happiness rules that work for most people. “I think there are some universal truths about happiness. We can all be happier if we listen to more music we like, get outdoors more, help others more, and spend more time with people we like being with. These are obvious insights but they are often overlooked as we get trapped by narratives about how we ought to live. There are also some broader societal issues to tackle such as inequality and discrimination, which could help everybody to become happier if they were better addressed.”

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