Tuesday 28 May 2019

Sweeping statements

Oh dear, the sweeping generali-sations people make, conveni-ently brushing all our individual differences under the carpet. In this latest case, the question of who is happier? The married or the unmarried? Those with children or without?

Professor Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics tells us that women are generally happier if they're single and childless, while the opposite applies to men.

Well, that may be true in general, but of course it all depends on the individuals and how they behave and what they expect.

Someone married to a kind, gentle, thoughtful, considerate spouse will obviously be happier than someone whose spouse is violent, domineering, arrogant and selfish.

Likewise someone who's single but poor, jobless, unhealthy and badly housed will be less happy than a single person in luckier circumstances.

Personally, I'm very happily married, but if I was married to someone who criticised me non-stop and always demanded the impossible, it would be another story.

Not to mention that Professor Dolan's conclusions are based entirely on self reporting, and people aren't necessarily truthful. He noted for example that when their spouse was present, women usually said they were happy being married, but if their husband wasn't around, they often confessed they were miserable.

I could tell Professor Dolan that I hated being married and my wife was a pain in the arse, and how would he know I was lying?

Also, whether you're happily married depends on whether you chose "the right person" in the first place and you're compatible over the long term. Obviously if you made the wrong choice and everything turns sour, then you're going to feel rotten.

So here's my sweeping generalisation - controversial research findings should be taken with a large pinch of salt.


  1. I wonder if age was taken into account. I can imagine that 30 something single women are happier if they have a successful career and freedom to travel, etc. over a woman who is juggling marriage, children, and work at that age. However, I would think the opposite would be true by the time they reach age 50. But really, how can a researcher measure happiness?

  2. His methodology is more interesting than his results.

  3. Bijoux: Good points. There was no mention of age in the reports, so I assume it wasn't considered. But yes, age must surely be a factor in what makes you happy or not. I guess to measure happiness scientifically, you'd have to monitor the level of endorphins in the person's body, 24/7!

    Helen: You mean the self reporting? Or whether a spouse was present? Or any other factors that might influence the person's answer?

  4. Statistics can prove anything. And I expect he gets paid for that research.

    I notice there's mention of age in the comments. Someone young and single might not be so happy to be in the same state in her later years. Or vice versa.

  5. Liz: Lies, damn lies, and statistics! I think age would definitely influence your opinion. If I were suddenly alone in a nice comfortable house, I would be a lot happier than when I was in my twenties and living in a scummy bedsit (which was the case).

  6. I think you and Bijoux and the others hit the nail on the head.
    how can a researcher measure happiness in that? I agree.
    we seem to be intent on labeling and separating and compartmentalizing people.
    I think the professor might have too much time on his hands!
    too many variables don't you think? has he written a book and wants us all to read it? LOL.

  7. Tammy: Exactly. He's just trying to further his career with a headline-grabbing piece of research. As you say, too many variables for his conclusions to be of much use.

  8. I saw that report Nick and I think his research was flawed. Kids have a huge bearing on such results.
    In studying my own circles over the years, the happiest people I know are couples without children.They travel a lot, are compatible (nothing, truly, is tying them together apart from liking each other. A lot.) and share many interests but also have money/savings/ sometimes 2 or 3 homes in different countries.
    The next I would say would be single women without children. Free to come and go, develop careers, plans exotic vacations, invest in RE or Stock market, retire with a couple of million.
    After that it's anyone's guess. Men don't, on the whole, like living alone and tend to glom on to a woman rapidly if spouse dies.
    Male gay couples are usually happy.
    Women gay couples not so much.
    This is just my own survey in my own circles.


  9. I was happy when Kaitlin was little, and I'm happy now. If Andy dies he will leave a big hole and I will spend a lot of time mourning,

  10. "Male gay couples are usually happy.
    Women gay couples not so much.
    This is just my own survey in my own circles."

    My circle is small but I see the opposite. In my experience males tend to be jealous while females tend to be supportive. So even that generalization cannot be trusted to be true since we have opposite experiences. In fact NO generalization is ever true since it disallows those who do not fit while determining the "general".

  11. John: His methodology is dubious to say the least.

    www: That's an interesting break-down. As you say, couples without children have nothing to tie them together except genuine love and affection. A lot of men do tend to implode if their wife dies or leaves, they're not as resilient as think they are.

  12. Jean: You two have obviously been very close for many years. I can imagine you would be pretty devastated if you lost Andy.

    Linda: "Males tend to be jealous while females tend to be supportive". I think that's often the case. It seems very common for men to vet their wives' every move, convinced they're flirting like crazy or sleeping with someone else.

  13. I am contented most of the time. I don't think I have anything more to add to the debate, other than I'd be more content if my spouse did more sweeping and vacuuming.

  14. Ms Scarlet: I think an awful lot of women could say the same about their spouses. I'm pleased to say I do virtually all the sweeping and vacuuming, Jenny does a bit here and there. But she does a lot of other stuff!

  15. I suspect that the premise is first decided on and then the research conducted to find data to justify the premise.

    I agree with you that controversial research findings should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

  16. Ramana: I think that's sometimes the case. A lot of research findings turn out to be highly questionable when they're looked at a bit more closely.

  17. This kind of finding has been repeated over and over. It is backed again and again so it probably has some meaning. Generalisations might not cover every experience but they don't intend to and they are still instructional.
    In general, partnered men have better mental health than single men, they are better supported and physically healthier.
    The study says a lot about women's lives: partnered women with children carry a high burden of emotional and physical responsibility. They live with a constant balancing act and sacrifice much. Most of them don't want it any other way but it is costly and the systems within our society have not yet genuinely recognised or compensated for this reality

  18. Kylie: It's certainly true that married women with children usually have a tough time of it, juggling childcare, housework and jobs often with little help from their husbands.

    Maybe as a general rule men have better mental health if they're married, but there are plenty of married men out there whose mental health is dubious to say the least. All those men who abuse their wives, take mistresses, bully their employees, troll public figures etc.

  19. none of that is a result of poor mental health. It is all just poor behaviour

  20. "...but there are plenty of married men out there whose mental health is dubious...."

    Just think how bad those guys would be were they single! ; )

    Having been married ages 19-39, single 39-49, married 50-81 (and counting - to the same guy), with 2 children, I've pretty much seen it all. For years I counseled my younger colleagues that the youth had it all wrong in seeking cohabitation without marriage. The ideal is marriage without cohabitation.

    Husband and I were married but living at least 500 miles apart for 4 of the past 31 years. That was "ideal" in my book. As we've aged, though, living together has been a plus in being better able to support one another's activities and health challenges. (It's easier on the kids that way.)

    Gaging our own happiness is like gaging our own pain - somewhat suspect since one cannot know how one's "1" or "10" compares to anyone else's. There is a reason such "science" is dubbed "soft".
    Cop Car

  21. That's not a sweeping generalization, it's a statistical probability. On average, single women tend to be happier than married women and on average, married men tend to be happier than single men. That's just what the data shows. (And honestly it makes sense - marriage tends to be a better deal for men than for women). But brushing it aside as a generalization because it doesn't suit you is like dismissing the stats on heart attacks being more common in older people just because you're older and haven't had one.