The race to the altar has become more of a marathon than a sprint. And though younger generations might be slower to get there, marriage still offers a big draw: According to a new study, married people are happier than their single counterparts.
The research, which comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Canada, used combined data from the British Household Panel Survey, the United Kingdom's Annual Population Survey and the Gallup World Poll. Researchers controlled for pre-marital satisfaction -- up until now, no one's been able to prove that these people wouldn't be just as happy had they never tied the knot -- and they still found that married people were consistently happier than singles.
Happiness levels were bolstered by marriage in three ways. First, for participants in the study, the benefits of marriage extended far beyond the so-called "honeymoon phase." Yes, the first year or two of marriage may have been the happiest, but participants didn't simply adapt to the boost and change their baseline accordingly -- they continued to consciously enjoy the benefits of marriage in the long-term, far beyond the honeymoon.
This finding led the researchers to the next positive effect of marriage. Participants in the study experienced a dip in happiness during middle age (as is common), but for those who were married, their union provided cushioning for the things that often weigh people down mid-life, like pressure from work and caregiving for children or parents.
"There's a lot of stress going on in middle age," Shawn Grover, a researcher for the Department of Finance Canada and co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post. "Having someone to talk that out with and having someone to support you in those difficult times can help explain why it's a bit harder for people without a partner."
And it's that partnership -- not romantic love or lust -- that allows people to reap the benefits of marriage, Grover and his co-author, John F. Helliwell, found. The third big takeaway from their research was that those who considered their spouse a "best friend" boasted the highest levels of happiness -- in fact, the well-being benefits were twice as large for those couples. This makes sense, given that previous research has shown that close relationships are crucial for long-term well-being.
But that's not to say that marriage is the only type of close relationship that matters -- long-term platonic friendships can offer plenty of joy, too. Dr. Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, pointed out that many studies on marriage and happiness don't accurately take into account those who were married, hated it and got divorced.
"Plus, the people who got married chose to marry," DePaulo said about the new findings in an email to The Huffington Post. "For people like me who are single at heart, getting married may not have the same implications as it does for the kinds of people who want to marry and choose to do so."
(For what it's worth, the current study compared those who were ever married -- including people who were divorced, widowed and separated -- to single people and still found that the people who chose to marry at one point were happier on average.)
Interestingly enough, long-term partners who lived together were nearly as happy as those who were legally married in the study -- the effects of cohabiting on well-being were about three quarters as large, according to Grover. Overall, the findings are a result of aggregate data, so they don't suggest that every individual person will be happier married -- just the average person.
"We do think it's more about that social relationship than the legal status," he said. "Marriage, in a sense, is a super friendship."
So while we may never be able to say "Getting married will make you happier" with certainty, it seems like a pretty handy institution for those looking to find a "super" friend to help weather life's challenges -- for those who want to be married, that is.