Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
Published in: Social Indicators Research, 1983, vol 12, pp 49-63

In present day Western society the institution of marriage appears to be of great significance for the well-being of the individual. Compared with married persons, the unmarried are generally less happy, less healthy, more disturbed and more prone to premature death. Among the married, happiness and health are highly dependent on marital success. The idea has been floated that the importance of marriage is now gradually declining. It is believed that single life is becoming more satisfying and that married persons are gradually becoming less dependent on their spouses.

Empirical data do not substantiate that belief. Firstly, the differences in well-being between unmarried and married persons are becoming greater rather than smaller. In the Netherlands -- between 1950 and 1980 -- suicide rates have risen far more among the unmarried than among the married. Furthermore the differences in happiness between unmarried and married persons appear greatest in the most modern European countries, whereas almost no differences exist in the most traditional ones. Secondly, married person' appear to have become more dependent on the relationship with their spouse rather than less. During the last few decades in the Netherlands the overall happiness of married people has become more closely associated with their satisfaction with marriage. These trends can be interpreted as suggesting that marriage is becoming an increasingly indispensable 'haven' in an increasingly 'privatizing' world.

Full text