Between marriage and having children, it might be time to reevaluate what “success” and “happiness” truly looks like for women, according to a prominent expert who spoke recently on the subject.
Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics, said new research shows that the traditional markers used to measure success, including marriage and raising children, did not appear to correlate with happiness, The Guardian reported.
While speaking to a crowd this weekend at the Hay Festival of Literature & Arts in Wales, Dolan put it rather bluntly.
“Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: f***ing miserable,” Dolan said, according to The Guardian.
“We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: If you’re a man, you should probably get married. If you’re a woman, don’t bother,” he said.
Dolan, who was reportedly referencing research from his new book, “Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myths of the Perfect Life,” said men benefited from marriage because they “calmed down.”
“You take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” Dolan said. “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married.”
Dolan told the crowd that the “healthiest and happiest population subgroup” are women who never married or had kids.
Dolan’s book cites evidence from the American Time Use Survey, which compared levels of pleasure and misery in married, unmarried, divorced, separated and widowed people, according to The Guardian.
He said men showed more health benefits from getting married as they tended to take fewer risks. Conversely, women's health was mostly unaffected by marriage, “with middle-aged married women even being at higher risk of physical and mental conditions than their single counterparts,” according to The Guardian.
Dolan also pointed out that despite the reported benefits researchers are seeing in a single, child-free lifestyle for women, society's existing narrative that women should get married and have kids meant that some single women could still feel unhappy anyway because of the stigma associated with those choices, according to the newspaper.
“You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children – ‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner,” Dolan said.
The U.S. birth rates last year reached an all-time low for women in their teens and 20s, leading to the fewest babies in 32 years, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Census data also showed that Americans are marrying later in life, and the number of people who have never married has been rising in recent decades.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.