“If you are a man, you should probably get married; if you are a woman, don’t bother.”
Women who choose not to have children or get married are often sneered at, judged or pitied by society.
For every woman who says she doesn’t want children, there are 10 people out there who will chime in with a variation of “oh, but you’ll change your mind when you’re older”, “never say never” or “you don’t know what you’re missing”.
And despite how far we’ve come as a society, marriage is still seen by many as the ultimate goal for women, as if we’re incomplete if we’ve not signed a piece of paper connecting us to another human being.
But there are myriad reasons people are happier not having children or getting married, from wanting to concentrate on a career to not being able to afford a wedding or children, to worrying about the effects an increasing population will have on climate change.
And now, a prominent expert in happiness has said that women who are not married and don’t have children are actually the happiest people in society.
Speaking at the Hay literature festival, Paul Dolan said that unmarried and child-free women are also likely to outlive people who are married and have children, reported the Independent. And, said the professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, single, child-free women are also healthier than their counterparts.
Men benefit from marriage because they “calm down”, said Dolan, but the same isn’t true for women.
“You take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” said Dolan of men. He continued: “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and she dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
Married people were happier than other groups, said Dolan, but only when their spouse was in the room when they were asked about their happiness.
“We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that academic science and just say: if you are a man, you should probably get married; if you are a woman, don’t bother,” he continued.
Dolan has carried out original research into the measurement of happiness and its causes and consequences and is the author of Happy Ever After, which uses evidence from the American Time Use Survey as well as other studies.
Despite the evidence pointing to single women without children being happiest, there was still some stigma which meant these women could feel unhappy, said Dolan.
And he said that while having children is an “amazing experience” for some people, for others it isn’t and the “idea that we can’t talk openly about why that might be is a problem”.
We definitely agree that there should be more open discussions about marriage and children, and the perfection myth around them. But we also think that women who don’t want to get married or have children should be able to do so without commentary, and without having to explain or defend themselves.