Having looked at the difference between married and cohabiting people in Italy in the last post, we are now looking if there is a difference in life satisfaction between married and unmarried people worldwide and if so, how has it developed over the last three decades.

We know that married people usually show higher life satisfaction over the life course than never married people.  But is this true worldwide? And did it change? The World Value Survey and the European Value Study looked at data from 87 countries worldwide between 1981 to 2009.

The results of the study confirm that married people are more satisfied with their life than those that have never been married people. The difference is not very high though, but it is consistent, and there is a difference between gender.

Married men were to 3.1 percent more satisfied with their life than never married men, and married women were 2.7 percent more satisfied than never married women.

Looking at the development between 1981 and 2009, satisfaction levels of married men decreased, while life satisfaction of married women remained the same.

We might jump to conclusions that the decrease in life satisfaction of men is due to a decline of what the author calls ”gender specialization“,  meaning more equality in the distribution of household chores —  but this could not be confirmed by data.

What contributes to life satisfaction for everybody are economic growth and liberal divorce legislation as well as growing social rights for women. Married people benefit especially from a high economic level, offering more independence. Especially married people in developing countries benefit from economic growth.


 What does this mean?

Economic development, liberal divorce regulations and the promotion of women’s rights contribute to a higher life satisfaction of both married and unmarried people; married people benefit especially from improving economic conditions.

To promote policies which favor a decrease in gender specialization and, as a consequence, promote more equality between men and women would lead to a higher life satisfaction generally, including for married people. In contrast, to strengthen gender-traditional family arrangements would lead to a decrease of life satisfaction, including for married couples.

Living in an open and liberal society, economic independence and more gender equality would contribute to a better life for all. Though the gap between married and unmarried people becomes smaller, married people worldwide experience more life satisfaction than never married.



Mikucka, Malgorzata 2016. The Life Satisfaction Advantage of Being Married and Gender Specialization. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 759 – 779.

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