The difference with people living with a spouse remains

Ruut Veenhoven en Renee van Schoonhoven
Gepublished in Dutch in: ‘Gezin; Tijdschrijft voor primaire leefvormen’, nr.1, 1991

Studies in modern western nations have repeatedly shown that singles take less pleasure in life than people living with a spouse. On various other indicators of well-being singles also appear to be at a disadvantage. Critics of marriage claim that this difference is disappearing. This article considers that hypothesis.

Theoretically, the claim that the gap will close is based on two explanations of the difference: the negative ‘labeling’ of singles in general, and an overrepresentation of ‘crisis’ cases among newly divorced and widowed. These effects are believed to be lessening. However, there are additional explanations: the gap is also attributable to the ‘deprivation’ experienced by singles and to ‘selection’ on the marriage market. These effects seem to be stronger than ever.

Empirically, the claim draws on findings from the USA. Glenn and Weaver (1988) report that the difference in happiness between marrieds and unmarrieds declined over the years 1972-1986. This finding is not replicated in an analysis of 11 EG countries over the years 1974 -1986. In the EC the gap has remained essentially unchanged. The US pattern is only dimly reflected in four EC countries: typically traditional ones. In Britain, Germany and the Netherlands the gap has widened somewhat.

Full text in Dutch