Why Conservative Women Report Being the Happiest—and How You Can Be, Too | Opinion

The share of American men and women who are married today is at a record low: 45 percent. That's one of the headlines emerging from the 2022 American Family Survey (AFS), out this week from YouGov and the Deseret News.

You may think this is good news, especially if you take your marching orders from the academy or the media. We're inundated with articles about how marriage is an outdated institution, a relic of a patriarchal past. A 2019 article in the Atlantic sought to inform readers of "What you gain when you lose a spouse," while the New York Times explored an America "Beyond Marriage." A recent story in Bloomberg assured us that "women who stay single and don't have kids are getting richer" than their peers who are married with children, leaving them free to enjoy a "deep sense of satisfaction" from their jobs, relish the "financial freedoms" that come with being single and child-free, and spend their disposable income flying around the world. As one woman put it, "I love my life and feel very fulfilled."

The clear takeaway for women here is simple: Marriage and parenthood will hold you back. The real path to prosperity and happiness runs away from the family—at least for today's women.

But there's just one problem with this kind of anti-nuptial and anti-natalist reporting: It's completely false. In fact, the Bloomberg story is based on data derived only from single Americans, meaning there is no basis for comparison with married women. And indeed, reality tells a different story.

Take prosperity. Guess who is more financially prosperous—married moms or childless single women?

happily married couple
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Married mothers. Married mothers ages 18-55 have a mean household income of $133,000, compared to $79,000 for childless, single woman 18-55, according to data from the U.S. Census' American Community Survey.

And guess who is happiest?

Again, married mothers: Thirty-three percent of married mothers ages 18-55 say they are "completely satisfied" with their lives, compared to 15 percent of childless women 18-55, according to the American Family Survey (for which I serve as an academic advisor).

What's more, single, childless women are about 60 percent more likely to report feelings of loneliness compared to married mothers.

If you're not the kind of person who makes the media your Bible, none of this will surprise you. Living for ourselves and our jobs is a dead end for most of us, whether we are a man or a woman—something that's pretty obvious to most people.

Meanwhile, giving of ourselves to others, especially to our spouse, kids, and community, is the path most conducive to a meaningful and generally happy life. And because marriage allows couples to pool income and assets and enjoy economies of scale, it also leads to a heck of lot more prosperity for the average Joe and Jane. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal story reported that the marriage premium in assets is growing by leaps and bounds, such that "median net worth of married couples 25 to 34 years old was nearly nine times as much as the median net worth of single households in 2019."

You have to be mighty high in the economic quartiles to be single and prosperous.

All this may explain another fascinating finding in the new American Family Survey. Guess which group of women ages 18-55 are the happiest? Conservative women.

It turns out they enjoy a 15 percentage-point advantage over liberal women in being "completely satisfied" with their lives. 31 percent of conservative women in this age group are completely satisfied with their lives, versus 16 percent of liberal women. And this advantage can largely be explained by the fact that conservative women are 26 percentage points more likely to be married and 24 percentage points more likely to be happy with their family life.

In other words, it seems that the happiest women in America today are those least likely to be following the profoundly self-centered and anti-family catechism of our ruling class.

So, if you wish to be a happy and prosperous woman, don't listen to the me-first Gospel proclaimed by our ruling class that encourages you to delay marriage—or even to toss it aside altogether. Instead, be open to the gifts of marriage and children and look for opportunities to embrace family life as a key part of a rich and meaningful life. Therein lies the better path to a more prosperous and happy future for today's women.

Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is the Future of Freedom Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a nonresident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Alysse ElHage is the editor of Family Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.