Does Marriage Make Parents Happier?

Nearly half of the children born today are born to unmarried parents. Cohabitating is becoming more and more popular in modern culture. In Europe and in the United States, the majority of married couples report that they lived together before getting married. Research has compared the satisfaction levels of married couples versus cohabitating couples and has consistently shown that couples who live together are significantly less happy with their relationships than married couples. Although having a child can bring immense joy and emotional closeness, it has also been shown to decrease relationship satisfaction in couples regardless of their marital status. But until recently, few studies have looked at how parenthood affects relationship satisfaction of married women compared to women who live with their partners. To address this void in research, Oystein Mortensen of the Psychology Department at the University of Bergen in Norway recently looked at the satisfaction levels of 71,504 women who were part of a larger study. He compared married women to unmarried women at four different times over 2 years after their first child was born.

In line with previous research, Mortensen found that the majority of the women experienced a decrease in satisfaction after the birth of their children, regardless of marital status. However, the women who were unwed exhibited lower levels of relationship satisfaction than the married women before giving birth and throughout the 2 years postpartum. This was evident across all economic and social classes. Mortensen also discovered that the satisfaction levels of married women were similar for women who were married before becoming pregnant and women who married during their pregnancy. This is particularly interesting because cohabitation without marriage before parenthood has been previously shown to negatively impact relationships even if the couples eventually marry. The results of this study clearly demonstrate the protective factor of marriage on new mothers. Mortensen believes that this study, although insightful, should be expanded upon to include fathers’ relationship satisfaction levels. He added, “Counselors, therapists, and other professionals should be particularly aware of the relationship satisfaction when dealing with cohabiting couples, not least in the transition to parenthood.”

Mortensen, O,, Torsheim, T., Melkevik, O., Thuen, F. Adding a baby to the equation. Married and cohabiting women’s relationship satisfaction in the transition to parenthood. Family Process 51.1 (2012): 122-39.

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  • Kitty


    April 18th, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    If you are married to someone that you love then I do think that this alone can make you happier, I also think that these are the couples who will not experience the marked decline in their relationships when they have children. But if you are married to someone only for the convenience or you are too scared to be on your own, then it stands to reason that these are not going to be the happiest of relationships. Add to those the stress that can come along with having a child and I think that this is definitely not a home that I would personally want to live in.

  • Angie J

    Angie J

    April 18th, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    My boyfriend and I have lived together for a couple of years and have talked about having a child together but never really the whole getting married thing. But there has always been something holding me back, a little nagging thought in the back of my mind that it would be for me alone to take care of the child, that he was not going to put a whole lot into it.
    he has kind of made me feel like the baby would be all my responsibility, and that is definitely not what I am looking for.
    Strange how just reading one thing may have just opened my eyes to the truth that I really have been desperate to avoid for a long time now. :(

  • garrett


    April 18th, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    It’s not the act of getting married or a piece of paper that makes you happy.
    Being happy is all about being with the one you love, and loving the one you’re with.
    That’s it, nothing fancy, just the basics.
    I sometimes think that we try to make things a little bit harder than they have to be.

  • Mike D

    Mike D

    April 19th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    Having the support of a marital spouse once you have a child is essential to the well-being of the child, the partners, and the marriage itself. Having a child is not something that one should have to take a stab at alone, but neither should it have to be when you are involved in a marriage that has very little value to you or your spouse. Marriage is something sacred to be cherished and tended, as is your child that you may bring into it. Please don’t forget all of that when things get a little tougher than you may have bargained for. Things always have a way of working out when something is right, and I think that you know deep down inside when it is a marriage and partnership worth hanging on to.

  • Lewis


    April 19th, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    I find it hard to believe that there are actually couples who will admit that having a child has driven them apart.
    All I ever seem to hear are the people who talk about the joy of having kids, but I don’t want to give up the independence and freedom that not having a child offers.
    I am sorry that things are not going well for all involved but it is kind of refreshing to know that I am not necessarily crazy for thinking that a child could take all of that away that I strongly value.

  • dylan


    April 19th, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    so what is it about marriage that does this?what is it about this ritual that many of us look at as something old and dead that can bring satisfaction and protection in a relationship?its something for all the marriage-bashers to look at,isn’t it?!

  • Dean


    April 20th, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Now maybe this is an argument that the homosexual community could use to persuade all the right wingers that they should go ahead and let them get married.

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