New article discusses if partnership and marriage provide benefits to mental health and well-being

An article ‘Mental Well-Being Differences in Cohabitation and Marriage: The Role of Childhood Selection’ written by CPC Associate Professor Dr Brienna Perelli-Harris and Marta Styrc has recently been published in the Journal of Marriage and Family on Wiley Online Library.

Historically in the UK, the married have had better well-being outcomes than the unmarried. The decline in marriage and increase in cohabitation raises questions about whether marriage still provides these benefits. Do partnerships in general, and marriage in particular, provide benefits to mental well-being today? Do differences in well-being by partnership hold when childhood characteristics are taken into account? Our research finds:
• Living together benefits well-being; people who live with a partner have higher well-being scores than those who do not live with a partner, on average.
• The type of partnership does not matter; marriage provides no more benefit to well-being beyond cohabitation.
• Observed differences in well-being levels between married and cohabiting people are explained by childhood background characteristics that lead to selection effects, with the exception of women who are less likely to marry.
• In order to improve mental well-being, policy makers should focus on reducing the adverse effects of disadvantage in childhood and improving mental well-being in adolescence, rather than legislating incentives to marry in adulthood.

Abstract: Prior studies have found that marriage benefits well-being, but cohabitation may provide similar benefits. An analysis of the British Cohort Study 1970, a prospective survey following respondents to age 42, examines whether partnerships in general, and marriage in particular, influence mental well-being in midlife. Propensity score matching indicates whether childhood characteristics are a sufficient source of selection to eliminate differences in well-being between those living with and without a partner and those cohabitating and married. The results indicate that matching on childhood characteristics does not eliminate advantages to living with a partner; however, matching eliminates differences between marriage and cohabitation for men and women more likely to marry. On the other hand, marriage may provide benefits to women less likely to marry unless they have shared children and are in long-lasting partnerships. Hence, childhood selection attenuates differences between cohabitation and marriage, except for women less likely to marry.

Brienna Perelli-Harris’ research forms part of the ‘Fertility and family change’ strand within CPC. Complimenting her work here, Brienna has also been honoured with a prestigious award for social demography for her outstanding research on cohabitation and childbearing across Europe and has appeared on BBC World News to discuss global marriage trends.

Read more about Brienna's research in CPC 'Is marriage or cohabitation better for mental well-being? ', 'The increase in cohabitation and the role of marital status in family policies: a comparison of 12 European countries' and 'Is there a link between the divorce revolution and the cohabitation boom?’.

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