They say marriage is not for everybody… well it turns out that what that might really mean is that it’s not for women.
That’s according to a professor of behavioural science from the London School of Economics who spoke about women’s happiness at the Hay Festival this weekend.
Professor Paul Dolan, a ‘happiness expert’ told festival-goers that the desire to settle down and start a family may actually have a negative impact on our wellbeing.
However this is the opposite for men, as they benefit from marriage due to it making them ‘calm down’ and take less risks.
He said: “The healthiest and happiest population sub-group are women who never married or had children.
“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.”
This idea is further explored in Dolan’s latest book, Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life, in which he looks at results from the American Time Use Survey comparing levels of pleasure and misery in unmarried, married, divorced, separated and widowed people.
Levels of happiness for married women were only found to be higher when their spouse was in the room with them.
“Married people are happier than other population sub-groups but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are,” he explained. “When the spouse is not present: f***ing miserable.”
Even with all the benefits of staying single and childless, Dolan acknowledges that having a partner and a baby are viewed by some as signs of success, and this could lead some women to feel unhappy and as if they are failing if they don’t manage to find them.
He added: “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children [and you think], ‘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… maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”