Gallup revealed findings from a recent survey indicating that irrespective of the approach taken, married individuals express a higher level of personal contentment compared to unmarried individuals.

According to a Gallup Poll published on Friday, adults in matrimony express significantly higher levels of happiness than individuals in any other relationship status.

Jonathan Rothwell, the principal economist at Gallup and author of the poll, remarked, “No matter how you analyze those statistics, we observe a substantial and noteworthy benefit to being married in terms of how individuals evaluate their life.”

Over a span of 15 years, from 2009 to 2023, Gallup conducted surveys involving over 2.5 million American adults. Among the questions posed in these surveys was a self-evaluation measure known as the Cantril Scale:

Developed by the pioneering social researcher Dr. Hadley Cantril, the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale comprises the following:

  • Visualize a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the lowest point to 10 at the highest point.
  • The top of the ladder signifies the best possible life for you, while the bottom signifies the worst possible life for you.
  • On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  • On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

The outcomes were then categorized into three primary groups: thriving, struggling, and suffering. Thriving refers to individuals who report a score of 7 or higher for their current situation, or 8 or higher for their future expectations. Struggling represents moderate views (5 or 6) of the present and moderate to negative views of the future. Lastly, suffering pertains to those who rate their present or future situation as a 4 or lower. Using this tool, Gallup discovered that married individuals consistently and significantly exhibit higher happiness in every demographic.

In comparison to other relationship statuses, married adults emerge as the most content, based on their evaluations of their present and future life. In 2023, married adults between the ages of 25 and 50 are 17 percentage points more likely to be thriving compared to adults who have never been married, a rise from 12 percentage points in 2009. The advantage favoring married individuals consistently remains significant from 2009 to 2023, fluctuating between a minimum of 12 percentage points and a maximum of 24 percentage points.

The substantial disparity in well-being favoring married individuals cannot be attributed to simple demographic distinctions. The gap from 2020 to 2023 is 20 percentage points even after accounting for race, ethnicity, age, educational achievement, and gender. In fact, within each gender and race/ethnicity category, married individuals report significantly higher well-being in comparison to those who have never been married. Both married men and women reveal a 20-percentage-point advantage compared to their same-sex counterparts who have never been married (view Supplemental Table 1 in the Appendix for more details).

However, there is a caveat worth noting. Based on the data, it is not possible to ascertain whether marriage leads to the additional well-being observed in the results, or if it simply correlates with it. It is uncertain because it is plausible that individuals who get married are essentially a self-selected group of individuals who were already more likely to be happy. One could argue that it is not marriage that brings about happiness, but rather, happiness that leads to marriage. Regardless, the magnitude of the effect is quite significant.

Educational attainment does predict well-being, but a married adult who did not attend high school, on average, rates life higher than an unmarried adult with a graduate degree, after adjusting for gender, race, and age. Gallup’s data from 2020 to 2023 indicate that marital status is a more powerful predictor of well-being for American adults than education, race, age, and gender (refer to Supplementary Table 1 in the Appendix for further insights).

Gallup identified that the individuals who experienced the most pronounced advantage were Republicans and those who held religious beliefs.

Republicans exhibit a significantly higher likelihood of thriving in their well-being compared to Democrats and supporters of Independents/third-parties, by 9 to 12 percentage points. Similarly, individuals with a religious affiliation are more inclined to thrive than atheists, agnostics, or those with no specific inclination (by 6 percentage points). However, controlling for these factors does not diminish the impact of marriage, despite the higher likelihood for married individuals to fall into both the Republican category and hold religious beliefs.

Ultimately, upon grouping cities based on the proportion of thriving married individuals, Gallup discovered a negative correlation with so-called deaths of despair (“suicide, drug or alcohol poisoning, or overdose”). The cities with a higher percentage of married and thriving residents tended to exhibit lower instances of deaths of despair. The study presents a chart depicting this relationship.

Consequently, it appears evident that married individuals are happier, whether it is due to marriage leading to happiness or because happy individuals choose to get married. Either way, it is an association that adults ought to consider joining.