For Better and for Worse: Cautionary Tails of Happiness in Marriage

Yan Yu, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Aimée R. Dechter, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Michael E. Sobel, Columbia University

The marriage decline since the late 1960s has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in cohabitation outside of marriage. Do these cohabitations that have replaced marriage, at least at younger ages or postmaritally, provide the same level of satisfaction as marriage? Previous studies found that the mean rating of happiness in the union is greater among married than cohabiting individuals. However, these studies focused exclusively on mean happiness. We explore two additional dimensions of relationship quality, and find that the tendency to rate the union as happy does not differ between marriage and cohabitation, but the tendency to rate the level of happiness or unhappiness as extreme is higher in married than cohabiting people, by using adjacent category logit models developed by Sobel to analyze data from the National Survey of Families and Households. These results suggest that marriages are both more intensely happy and more intensely unhappy.

Presented in Session 87: Cohabitation