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Single People Get Less Happy as They Age

While being single or married does not usually make much difference in terms of life satisfaction for younger people, single individuals tend to feel less happy as they age, particularly at certain moments of their lives, and most single people experience a peak of unhappiness once they retire, according to Anna Shirokanova, Senior Research Fellow of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research in St. Petersburg.

People today tend to start a family at a later age, particularly in Europe. According to Eurobarometer data from 35 countries, just about half of all European respondents aged 40 and younger are officially married, while 5% have divorced by that age.

In her comparative research, Shirokanova examines the relationship between subjectively experienced happiness and the size of household by appying multilevel regression to European Social Survey (ESS) data from 22 countries, including Russia.

Divorced Less Happy Than Single or Married 

According to numerous studies, a good family is a major factor in one's happiness level; likewise, happy people have been found more likely to be happily married. However, people in many countries tend to start a family at an older age, while an increasing number of adults choose to stay single

Shirokanova has found different levels of happiness in people living in two, three and four-member households vs. single people at various life stages; by single people, she means those who have never married and now account for some 25% of European adults aged 40 and younger.

The situation in Russia is similar to that in Europe, but due to popularity of early marriages, more people in Russia are divorced by the age of 40. In fact, divorced people on average experience lower happiness levels than those with a family or single people, both in Russia and in Europe generally. 

Peaks of Unhappiness

According to Shirokanova, happiness levels are comparable between single and married respondents under 35 or 40, yet many single people experience their first peak of unhappiness compared to married people at an age ranging from 35 in Russia and 36 to 42 in richer European countries. 

Then a second, less dramatic peak of unhappiness tends to occur at an older age of 68 in Russia and 72 in Europe. According to Shirokanova, "The first peak may be associated with mid-life stock-taking, while the other one later in life may be linked to factors such as grandchildren, economic well-being, health, etc."

After the first peak of unhappiness, single people in European countries tend to recover to the same level of subjective well-being as their married peers, but the situation in Russia is different; while the happiness levels of single and married Russians before the age of 35 are about the same, single Russians get consistently less satisfied with their lives as they age.

According to Shirokanova, one possible explanation may be that single Russians have limited access to mutual financial and social assistance common in families, as well as the fact that Russian society is less accepting of single people.

The study is ongoing; Shirokanova will now focus on non-economic factors influencing the levels of happiness and subjective well-being in Europe.

 

Author: Marina Selina, February 11, 2016