In 1870, on the occasion of the engagement of Queen Victoria’s daughter Louise, the great British statesman Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “There is no greater risk perhaps than matrimony. But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage.”
I thought about those words as I read a new study that documents how marriage brings happiness—particularly to women. And how the lack of marriage can bring sorrow instead.
I have some dear friends who spend a great deal of their time and energy mentoring young adults—including three young women who now find themselves in their early- to mid-30s.
These ladies who they meet with regularly are dealing with significant sadness in their lives. They want to be married and have children, yet remain single—not by choice but by circumstance. My friends’ hearts break for these three women as they share their deep-seated hurts over not achieving the deepest desire of their hearts—to be wives and mothers.
Despite some feminists and other voices in our culture telling women that singleness isn’t only OK but preferable (who can forget Gloria Steinem’s use of a quote by Australian activist Irina Dunn that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”?), the facts are often otherwise: There’s a deep longing within these young women and thousands of others to experience the fulfillment and security marriage brings to them and their children.
A recent study by Brendan Case, associate director for research at Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Project, and colleagues, published in the journal Global Epidemiology, examined nearly 12,000 female American nurses who initially had never married and compared those who got married between 1989 and 1993 with those who remained unmarried. The results were fascinating—and effectively refute the arguments by those who believe that marriage is detrimental to female happiness.
The women who got married were not only happier emotionally but healthier physically. The married women had lower risks of cardiovascular disease, less depression and loneliness, felt a greater sense of purpose and hope, and were happier and more optimistic than their unmarried peers.
As Case and his co-author wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Other things being equal (and of course in particular cases they often aren’t) marriage—with the support, companionship, and affection it offers—is still a crucial constituent of a flourishing life for many women.”
Thus, it isn’t a coincidence that diminishing marriage rates—and more women finding themselves single into their 30s—are making a major impact on our society.
The decreasing marriage rate has led to a spike in the number of people living alone—more than 37 million adults as of 2021. While not all adults living alone are lonely, many are, and these individuals are more likely to lack significant social connections, which can be deadly. For instance, John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago professor, wrote in his book “Loneliness” that the negative health risks of living alone are far worse than air pollution or obesity.
Nevertheless, despite evidence that documents how marriage provides many of the social connections and personal fulfillment needed to not only survive but also thrive in life, our culture continues to send messages that women don’t need a husband to be happy and successful.
Brad Wilcox of the American Enterprise Institute documents this. He looked at research from the American Family Survey on the happiness of married versus single women, and the contrast is stark.
In the survey, 33 percent of married mothers reported that they were “completely satisfied” with their lives. In contrast, only 15 percent of single and childless women felt the same way. In addition, about 60 percent of those single and childless women were more likely to report feelings of loneliness compared to married mothers.
Marriage is a stabilizing force—emotionally and physically—not only for women but also for men as well. With stability comes security, and with security comes contentment and happiness. It’s that stability that countless young American women yearn for. Perhaps it’s time that we as a society recognize, rather than deny, that fact. Perhaps fish need bicycles after all.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.