And They Lived Happily Ever After

Happy Marriages


Fairytales and real life often are not quite alike. We have all heard the cliche final sentence of a fairy tale stating “they lived happily ever after” without ever even thinking what it really meant. The princess married her dreamy prince and they had a magical life together.  We have no idea what the marriages of imaginary royal people would be like, but we do have some data about the real marriages.


We happened to come across this decades old data set containing information about marriages from the late 60’s to the early 70’s. Hey, here’s a funny thought: do you think your parents or grandparents were happily married? If your parents are divorced, you probably have your answer ready, but for the rest of you, here is some data about how the marriages in the past decades were like. Just for the reference, you know. And if you belong to the generation included in these surveys, well, now you know how your marriage measures up to the others!


The original studies were conducted by Psychology Today and RedBook (magazines) so it is unlikely that the respondents would represent a random sample of the whole population. But we now ignore this fact, just for the sake of spying on other people’s lives in the past.


Since most of us have our worse and better days, let’s first have a look at how happy people are in their marriages. All married people. A surprisingly large amount of people have reported that they are very happy in their marriages, and the next biggest portion of married people have stated that they are happier than the average! Actually, those who have been somewhat or very unhappy only consist 14 % of the respondents. That’s remarkable. One would even wonder why divorce has become so popular if all the couples used to have such happy marriages.


Chart 1.
Chart 1. How happy people are in marriage.


If we then compare the happiness of the marriages depending on the gender of the respondent, it seems that women are just a bit more likely than men to be very happy or very unhappy in their marriages. Maybe women are just better at extrapolating things, who knows. Both men and women report equal amount of “average happy” marriages. Ok, that wasn’t very exiting. Is there anything that would explain the level of happiness? Age? The years spent in the marriage? Children? Religion?


Chart 2.
Chart 2. Happiness in marriage by gender.


It turns out that most of these factors seem to have some kind of an effect on the level of happiness in marriage! It is quite interesting how education reflects on the happiness of the marriage. 43 % of those who had only gone to grade school, reported very unhappy marriages while those with doctorate or other advanced studies hardly reported very unhappy marriages at all! In the contrary, 77% of them had marriages that were very happy or happier than the average. Then again, the amount of respondents in the first group was much smaller than in the latter group.


Chart 3.
Chart 3. Happiness in the marriage by education.


Also one thing we can say for sure is that the longer you stay married, the unhappier you will be! Oh, now it’s easy to see why people tend to get divorced after all… Actually it’s not quite this straight forward, but it seems that if your marriage exceeds 6 years, it’s more likely to get unhappy at some point.


Chart 4.
Chart 4. How happy people are in their marriage as years pass by.


We are not going to go through all the factors that have an effect on the happiness level (and you are more than welcome to do that and explore the data set we have provided for you!), but because we humans are always interested in the dirty little secrets of others, we want to see how the happiness affects on the behaviour! Since the data set contains information on extramarital  relationships, we will now see how the happiness corresponds to cheating.


First of all, most people didn’t have or they didn’t confess having any extramarital relationships at all, but of those who were unhappy in their marriages, 50 % had extramarital relationships. This doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t cheat though. Even those who were very happy in their marriages, would include a minority of 15 % that were having affairs.


Chart 5.
Chart 5. How much people cheat in their marriage, grouped by the happiness of the marriage.


Also the occupation seems to have an effect on infidelity. Those who are maybe a little better off like small business owners were more likely to have extramarital relationships than others.


Chart 6.
Chart 6. Extramarital relationships, grouped by the respondent’s occupation.


Just out of curiosity: if you would like to know the characteristics of a person that would be most likely to cheat in the marriage, we can here paint a picture for you. He would be just as rare as the fairytale princesses or at least very hard to come by in the real life in the western world. He would be an unhappily married under 20 years old male, who has been married for more than nine years and has children. He is an atheist, high school graduate and a small business owner.






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