Most Americans still say they’d like to get married if they aren’t already wed. But the view that marriage is an important precursor to having children or a good life has been eroding for several years, as shown by the American Family Survey.

But married Americans are more apt to be thriving than their never-married or divorced peers or those who cohabit, according to a new analysis of years of its own survey data by Gallup researchers.

“Gallup well-being data from 2009 to 2023 find that married people are much more likely to be thriving in their well-being than adults who have never married, are divorced or are living with a domestic partner,” wrote Jonathan Rothwell for Gallup, noting people were categorized as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering” depending on the scores they gave their lives — current and future — on a ladder scale with steps labeled 0 to 10.

“Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving,” Rothwell wrote.

The data suggest that across the 14 years, married adults ages 25 to 50 fell into the thriving range far more often — “by double-digit margins” — than did those who never married, 61% vs. 45% in 2023. For both those who are divorced and those in domestic partnership, 45% were thriving, based on annual averages.

Gallup said that finding was true across racial and ethnic groups and for both men and women. Nor could educational attainment or age account for the association between being married and thriving, the research firm added.

Adults with children

Most people who had a romantic partner in the survey said they are in a loving and supportive relationship — unless that relationship is contentious, with frequent arguments. Among those who are in an exclusive relationship but not living with a partner, 61% said their relationship was loving and supportive, while 41% said they fought at least twice in the past month. The number in a loving relationship rose to 69% for cohabiters, but nearly half of them said they fought at least that often.

Among those married and living with their spouse, 83% agreed they were in a loving and supportive relationship, while the number fighting twice or more in the past month dropped to 26%.

Rothwell’s report also noted that married people are more likely to practice a religion, which studies have also associated with higher self-reported well-being.

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Other research has made similar findings. In December, reporting results of the ninth annual American Family Survey, Deseret News talked to Cynthia Osborne, professor of early childhood education and policy and the founder and executive director of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at Vanderbilt University, about how parental relationships impact children.

The American Family Survey is a nationally representative study, now nine years old, of how Americans live and their attitudes about a lot of things related to family life, conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and BYU’s Wheatley Institute and its Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Osborne, by training a family demographer, said that stability is something all children need to thrive, including having basic needs met and being able to access stable resources. But family structure has a large impact. “We know when children have a stable family structure, it makes a big difference in health and well-being on numerous outcomes.”

Other structures, not just living with two married parents, can provide that, she told Deseret News, but “usually those are a more stable unit than unmarried partners or a single person who may cycle in and out of relationships.”

Marriage benefits

The American Survey Center on American Life conducted its own survey on marriage and published a report in November, asking if men and women who marry and start families are happier than those who don’t. They found some differences based on gender.

Wrote Daniel A. Cox, “Most Americans see marriage as a positive, but new research findings show a massive gender divide. Fifty-eight percent of men and 53% of women agree that men who get married and have children are better off than those who do not. However, when it comes to women benefiting from marriage and parenthood, there was far less agreement. About half of men (49%) and less than one-third (32%) of women believe that women who get married and have children live fuller, happier lives.”

Basically, women believe men get the biggest benefit when couples wed and start families, the survey found. Part of the issue, Cox said, is that even when women work, they have a larger share of responsibility for home and kids.

A 2020 American Family Survey captured some of that tension. “While parents agree their children do just under 20% of household tasks, men say they’re carrying half the load and wives say it’s a 65-35 split,” Deseret News reported at the time.

Studies repeatedly show health benefits for married men. As Harvard Health reported, “A major survey of 127,545 American adults found that married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood. Men who have marital partners also live longer than men without spouses; men who marry after age 25 get more protection than those who tie the knot at a younger age, and the longer a man stays married, the greater his survival advantage over his unmarried peers.”

The article notes other things may contribute, but marriage deserves “at least part of the credit.”

High-quality marriage also benefits women’s health, according to the American Psychological Association, by offering social support and reducing risks linked to social isolation. And both partners likely encourage each other to curb unhealthy behaviors, those researchers found.