Turning 30 is tough; high school kids start calling you “sir,” the first rogue grey hairs are sighted, and Ken Burns documentaries become almost irresistibly entertaining. While all of these developments are troubling, a recently published article in Social Psychological & Personality Science about “time period differences in subjective well-being” argues that something else is making America’s 30-somethings miserable. According to the article, people in this age bracket’s subjective well-being (SWB) scores are lower than ever before, and (amongst other factors) the reason for this collective unhappiness is something unexpected: marriage, or more specifically, the lack thereof.
Quite simply, fewer people are getting married in the United States, and this is especially true for people in their 30s. A report from the Pew Research Center shows that in 2012, “one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married.” For comparison, the report showed that “only about one-in-10 adults (nine percent) in that age range had never been married” in 1960. And, despite what Al Bundy has shown us, marriage has been proven to increase happiness.
This is not to say that “unrealistic expectations for educational attainment, jobs, [and] material goods” do not make people in their 30s unhappy, too (we were promised hover boards!), but the issue of marriage is the most intriguing because the solution appears to be the least complicated. According to the Pew Research Center, “24 percent of never-married Americans ages 25 to 34 currently live with a partner,” and though nine percent of those couples get married in a year’s time, 62 percent continue living in sin and fending off probing questions about their relationship status from aunts and neighbors.
Maybe 30-somethings would be happier if they made their joint-custody of a Netflix account legitimate and got married? Or maybe, as this Science Daily study indicates, people in long-term relationships are just as happy as married couples? Maybe the question of happiness is so multi-faceted and it’s so damn difficult to isolate control group factors that any study becomes almost moot? Or perhaps Bobby McFerrin had it right?
The more you study the findings from San Diego State’s article, the more confused and dissatisfied you might feel (especially if you’re in your 30s). Still, it seems clear that positive relationships are a major factor in making 30-somethings slightly less miserable. Because once you start finding those grey hairs, it’s nice to have somebody (either officially recognized or not) by your side.