Marriage increases lifetime happiness, says new study
Manuel Orero Galan--Getty Images/Moment RF
January 12, 2015 5:49 PM EST

Finally Julia Roberts can get the scientific recognition she deserves. Turns out, she was totally right in My Best Friend’s Wedding: being married to your best friend actually does make you happy (sorry, Julia; congratulations, Cameron Diaz).

According to a study recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, married couples who said their spouse was their best friend reported significantly higher rates of life satisfaction than less friendly couples. About half of married or co-habitating couples said their partner was their best friend, and they get almost twice as much “additional life satisfaction” from the relationship than other couples. This finding was consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, gender, income, and health, and was still higher for married buddies than cohabitating couples who said they were best friends.

The benefit of having your spouse be your best friend was much higher for women than for men, but women were also less likely to say that their spouse was their BFF (perhaps because women tend to have lots of close female friendships, while men tend to have fewer).

Marriage rates have declined by almost 60% since 1970, and in 2013 the U.S. marriage rate was the lowest in 100 years (only 31.1 marriages per 1,000 married women). But according to researchers Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell, who compiled the study on marriage and happiness for the NBER, marriage is strongly correlated with increased happiness, even in less fun periods of life like middle age (this is not to say that middle-aged married people are super happy, they’re just happier than unmarried middle-aged people). They found that even when controlling for the possibility that naturally happy people may be more likely to get married in the first place, marriage comes with a significant increase in life satisfaction. And that increase in life satisfaction endures past the newlywed phase and often result in increased happiness in the long term.

And while marriage is increasingly becoming a “luxury good,” more common among the rich and college-educated, Grover and Helliwell controlled for income in their research, which means that the well-being that comes from marriage isn’t the same as the well-being that comes from wealth.

 

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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