research marriage singlesA just-published 6-year study of people who marry, cohabit, or stay single is one of the best of the thousands of studies on similar topics ever published. It is terrific methodologically – it is a longitudinal study, meaning that it follows the same people over time. We can see how those people change in their happiness, health, self-esteem, and relationships with other people as they cohabit or marry or stay single. It is that very rare study that acknowledges that not all serious romantic partnerships are lasting ones, and asks how people who began cohabiting or got married are faring years later, even if their romantic relationship did not last.

There was something else remarkable about the study: It punched a huge hole in the “happily ever after” myth about getting married. Especially the “ever after” part.

But here’s the thing: The results offered the authors an opportunity to make a profound statement about single life. They could have questioned the prevailing wisdom about the supposed benefits of marrying – beliefs that have been passed along from scholar to scholar like some precious enduring truths. The authors even spelled out, in their introduction, those consensual beliefs about why marrying is purported to be so good for you. Then, after presenting their actual results, here’s what they say about the implications of their results for living single: Nothing at all.

The study is a great example of how even the highest-quality research, with findings that in some ways speak loudly about the strengths of people who are single, can be folded into a narrative that is only about marriage and cohabitation and coupling. It is an example of a big, important, wide-ranging point: Our society is so obsessed with marriage and coupling that even smart social scientists with findings that are screaming out for a rethinking of the myths about living single just don’t hear what their own results are yelling at them.

In my next post (here it is), I’ll tell you more about how the authors framed their research in the introduction, what their findings actually were, and what they said about those results – and didn’t say – in the discussion section of their paper. Even if you are not a social scientist, I bet you can anticipate the standard arguments among marriage scholars about why getting married supposedly improves your health and well-being. I’ll describe those prevailing beliefs next time, too. In the meantime, if you want to read what I’ve already reported about the results of this research, the relevant posts are here, here, and here.

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