Personal Happiness and Marital Status

The paper focuses on the relationship between personal happiness and marital status of individuals. The focal variable chosen to analyze is LIFE. It is a variable which measures general satisfaction with life, which is one of the aspects which shape individual happiness. Herein, this variable is named “personal happiness.” Respondents were asked to answer the question, “In general, do you find life exciting, pretty routine, or dull?” (Survey Documentation and Analysis). 

As an independent variable, I have chosen marital status (MARITAL). Since marriage is one of the important steps in individual life stories, I suppose that marital status of people might influence their individual happiness. Basically, it may influence happiness in several ways. First, married people might feel that their life is routine, because they have numerous daily responsibilities related to family life. Second, they might feel happier than those who have lost their spouses or who have overcome a divorce or separation. Those people who have never been married might feel happier than others if they think marriage can limit their individual freedom. On the other hand, they might feel depressed if they value family and marriage. Finally, I have chosen sex (SEX) as a control variable hypothesizing that marital status and individual happiness might both be related to the sex of people.

Relationship Between Personal Happiness and Marital Status

To examine the relationship between personal happiness and marital status, I had to recode the original variable (MARITAL) into a variable with three categories. As a result, those who are widowed, divorced or separated were combined into one category. The name for this new variable is MARITAL3CAT. It is understood that the groups which have formed the second category might have specific features and outlook on life, but what is even more important is that they have lost their spouses. Either symbolic or material loss of the loved ones is often thought to influence the overall satisfaction with life and personal happiness. 

Table 1. Recoding Marital Status

Table 1 above shows that there are three valid groups for the new marital status variable. There are 30,761 cases that are coded “1”, who are married individuals. There are 14,594 cases that are coded “2”, who are widowed, divorced or separated. Finally, there are 11,686 cases that are coded “3”   and these respondents have never been married. There are also 20 cases coded “9”   this code was created for the missing values. The total number of valid cases is 57,041. This number covers all those people who participated in GSS from 1972 until now and answered this particular question.

 

Distribution of Respondents by Personal Happiness and Marital Status

Table 2 shows the distribution of respondents by individual happiness. It is evident that people mainly think that their life is exciting or routine, not dull. The percentage for the first two alternatives is almost the same, while the percentage for the last alternative is substantially lower. The distribution for these alternatives is 46.7 %, 48.2 %, and 5.1 % respectively. Such a low percentage may be explained from two perspectives. First, people indeed might be satisfied with their life. Second, they might be afraid to give socially unaccepted answers, which can compromise their visible well-being.

Moreover, the total number of cases is almost twice less than for marital status variable, while the number of cases coded “0” and labeled “IAP” is 22,467. This abbreviation is used to identify those respondents for whom this question was inapplicable for one of the possible reasons. One of the reasons is that this question was not asked in 1972, 1975, 1978, 1983, and 1986 (GSS Data Explorer).  

Table 2. Distribution by Individual Happiness

The first table also shows the distribution of respondents according to their marital status: 53.9% are married, 25.6% are widowed, divorced or separated, and 20.5% have never been married. More than a half of those who responded to the GSS from 1972 to 2012 were married. Thus, it is possible to assume that there are several patters of relationship between marital status and personal happiness within this category.

Analysis of the Relationship between Personal Happiness and Marital Status

The general pattern, which recurs even when men and women are examined separately, is that most people find their life exciting or routine and only a small percentage finds their life dull. Married individuals are less likely to think that their life is dull, while those who have never been married think their life is routine more seldom, and those who are widowed, divorced or separated are less likely to be excited about their life. There are almost equal likelihoods that married men and women see their life either exciting or routine. For those who have lost their partner, however, it is more likely to have intermediate satisfaction with life. Singles are more often excited than disappointed about life.    

Table 3. Relationship between Marital Status and Personal Happiness: All Valid Cases

However, some gender differences become evident when this relationship is controlled for gender. Table 4 shows the relationship between the focal variable of personal happiness and the independent variable of marital status by taking into account the possible influence of the control variable of gender (sex). The following results demonstrate that male respondents are more likely to feel that their life is exciting if they are married (50.8%) or have never been married (51.4%). Men also have a greater possibility of feeling that their life is routine if they are married (46.5%). Meanwhile, those men who have experienced the loss of their partner or have never been married are more likely to find that their life is dull (8.5% and 4.6% respectively). Widowed, divorced, and separated males are also slightly more likely to think their life is routine (46.2%) unlike those who never married (43.9%). However, they think that their life is exciting more rarely (45.3%).  

Table 4. Relationship between Personal Happiness and Marital Status: Males

Concerning females, they are also more likely to feel excited about their life if they are married (45.8%) or have never been married (48.1%) than the sample in general. However, these percentages are lower than for men. Women have a higher possibility of feeling that their life is routine if they are married (51.0%). This possibility is even higher (52.0%) for widowed, divorced or separated women. As well as male respondents, females who have lost their partner are likely to find their life to be dull (9.0%). However, they are less likely than men to have this opinion if they have never been married (5.7%). 

Table 5. Relationship between Personal Happiness and Marital Status: Females

This empirical evidence suggests that there is connection between marital status and gender when personal happiness is examined. Although the differences are not more than 6%, the general patterns of feeling that life is exciting, routine or dull differ for men and women. Apart from the differences among married, widowed, separated, divorced, and never married, men find their life exciting more often, while women are more likely to think that their life is routine. 

In conclusion, these findings highlight several trends. First, most people are satisfied with their life and are happy or moderately happy. It is much more socially accepted to say that one’s life is routine than to confess it is dull. Second, men are happier, while women often perceive their life as routine. This can be related to the division of labor connected with gender roles and responsibilities. Finally, as it was predicted, the loss of one’s partner substantially decreases one’s likelihood of finding life exiting. People who are widowed, divorced or separated have the highest risk of being frustrated with their life. It would be interesting to examine how age interacts with the analyzed variables, since bachelors’ and single women’s status determines their higher likelihood of feeling either excited or frustrated.

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May 15, 2019 in Communications
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