recent, Social Media, Social Science

Happiness and Academic Malpractice

In two popular books about happiness, Professor Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics has established himself as a public scholar. Dolan writes very clearly—an unusual attribute for an academic—and brings a fresh approach to the study of happiness. Quillette founder Claire Lehmann captures it well in a review of Dolan’s first book, Happiness by Design:

When we think about our “happiness” we may think about the goals we have achieved, how much money we have in the bank, or how prestigious our job is. We may not think about our commute to work, our dreary co-workers or the fact that days at the office seem to drag along, uninspiringly. In doing so, Dolan argues, we privilege our evaluative self over the experiential self.

Dolan’s exploration of the experiential self isn’t intended just to be a theory: he presents statistical data from numerous sources in support of his hypothesis. Unfortunately, Dolan’s data provide very little support for his theory, and are marred by serious errors of both analysis and interpretation.

Dolan first caught my attention on May 25, 2019, when the Guardian published a quote from him that struck me as unusually strident for a social scientist: “Married people are happier than other population sub-groups but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: fucking miserable.” This ran counter to all the data I’ve seen in my decades of being a family scholar, data that consistently show that married people are happier than their unmarried contemporaries. At the time, Dolan had been publicizing his latest book, Happy Ever After.

Writing for the Family Studies Blog on May 28, I provided evidence that Dolan’s data didn’t really support his contention. His claims about the fucking misery of marriage rely upon data from the American Time Use Survey. These data are shown Figure 10 of Happy Ever After. I emailed Dolan to inquire about this figure on May 25, 2019, but as of June 8 he has not responded.

Below is a mock-up of the figure, with elements missing to avoid copyright law hot water:

The figure is measuring unhappiness by marital status on a scale from 0 (not unhappy) to 6 (very unhappy). The y-axis scale is faithful to Happy Ever After. Contrary to what Dolan implies in the Guardian, the figure covers both wives and husbands. Each of the six bars corresponds to a different marital status, with married respondents split up into “spouse present” and “spouse absent” categories:

  • Married, spouse present
  • Married, spouse absent
  • Widowed
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Never married

Looking at the y-axis, it’s pretty clear that few survey respondents are unhappy. Indeed, the .2 difference between bars represents the entirety of the difference between “happy” and “fucking miserable” as represented by Dolan in the Guardian article. This is a pretty trivial difference by any stretch of the imagination.

Is the difference statistically significant? Dolan doesn’t say. Are these results adjusted for socio-demographic differences between respondents? Dolan doesn’t say that either. Are both heterosexual and same-sex marriages depicted in Figure 10? More silence from Dolan.

Indeed, Dolan’s book contains very few methodological details. He is candid about not doing the data analysis himself; instead, he’s drawing on the dissertation of his graduate student and frequent collaborator Laura Kudrna. (This dissertation is freely available online for anyone curious.)

Dolan’s book, in short, doesn’t appear to support what he said in the Guardian interview. This is the main story I told in my Family Studies article. It turned out I’d only fired the first salvo. United States government economist Gray Kimbrough, well acquainted with the American Time Use Survey, soon identified an even more damning problem with Dolan’s work.

Dolan had erroneously taken “Married, spouse absent” to mean that a respondent’s spouse just wasn’t in the room. In fact, Kimbrough pointed out, it meant that the spouse wasn’t even in the household; it referred to spouses living separately. Dolan apparently hadn’t taken the time to learn what his data were actually measuring. One Twitter wag suggested that “spouse present” was the new “death recorded” (a reference to Naomi Wolf’s embarrassing flub in interpreting nineteenth century British law).

Kimbrough systematically dismantled other Dolan claims in a Twitter thread. Dolan’s suggestion that marriage isn’t related to women’s physical health is refuted by the earlier research he cites in his book. The American Time Use Survey data he invokes offers no evidence in support of the contention that the “healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.” Moreover, my own analysis of data from the General Social Survey supports Kimbrough’s findings—and repudiates Dolan’s. The figure below shows that married women are much more likely to report being “very happy” than are their previously married or never-married contemporaries. The only part of the story that Dolan appears to get right is the claim that people with kids are a bit less happy.

Elsewhere Dolan offers claims that can be refuted just as easily. For instance, in a portion of his book excerpted by the Guardian in January of this year, he claims that people who make over $100,000 a year are no happier than those making under $25,000.

General Social Survey data give lie to Dolan’s claims. The data below show that people with incomes above $100,000 are decidedly happier than are those who make less than $25,000 a year. What’s more, income and marital status continue to be correlated with happiness even after controlling for the usual social and demographic suspects: education, race, age, and so on.

Academics make mistakes, even dumb ones. Dolan could have easily come clean about everything, but he didn’t. He offered this half-denial to journalist Charles Lehmann:

The Guardian struck the “fucking miserable” claim from the May 25 article, but included no retraction notice.

Perhaps more noteworthy, Dolan stuck to his guns about marriage being better for men, despite having the rug pulled out from under him by both me and Gray Kimbrough. Indeed, he doubled down in an article he wrote for the Guardian on June 4, then tried to misdirect his critics attention with a speculative digression about stigma against single people. In a BBC interview on June 7, Dolan was asked point blank (at 6:58) if he wanted to retract his claims about marriage being “fucking miserable.” He neither affirms nor retracts; he dissembles. At 8:08, the interviewer said, “Well, the interview went on for a long time, but I’ll spare you, because I never did manage to get Paul Dolan to produce any evidence that married women were flipping [sic] miserable.” This had been preceded by an interview with Grey Kimbrough in the same segment.

Dolan’s “findings” about marriage were spread far and wide in the days after the May 25 Guardian article. The Guardian itself repeated the fiction two days later (and again, two days after that), but couldn’t be bothered to correct it. Meanwhile, the story had already popped up in clickbait at the New York Post, the UK’s Telegraph, and myriad other sites. Far fewer have set the story straight (two exceptions are the aforementioned BBC segment and a detailed explainer in Vox).

As readers of Quillette well know, some tempest in a teacup is always spilling out of academia into the broader media. Why should we care about Paul Dolan’s academic misfeasance? Canadian economist Marina Adshade got it right with this assessment on Twitter:

Paul Dolan’s specious science undermines public confidence in higher education, already at a low ebb in the United States and elsewhere. Conservative politicians have stepped up their rhetorical and legislative onslaught in recent years. “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange we’ll train your children to hate our country,” said the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in 2017. Meanwhile, the “Sokal Squared” hoax has revealed that a small sector of higher education is engaged in an intellectually dubious enterprise.

A lot of science is flawed in one way or another, but few of the errors are as careless as Dolan’s. He compounded his sins by repeatedly failing to take responsibility for them. If nothing else, Paul Dolan is a cautionary tale for young academics in how they should engage with the press. The rest of us have a moral responsibility to speak up the next time a huckster makes the news.

 

Nicholas H. Wolfinger is Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah. His most recent book is Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos (with W. Bradford Wilcox; Oxford University Press, 2016). You can follow him on Twitter @NickWolfinger

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Filed under: recent, Social Media, Social Science

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Nicholas H. Wolfinger is Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah. His most recent book is Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos (with W. Bradford Wilcox; Oxford University Press, 2016).

64 Comments

    • Highsider says

      Another uneducated(in all practicality) but highly opinionated (in all actuality) author who presumes to educate the reader. Pffffffft!

  1. Don Collins says

    I have been married twice, currently still married to the second and plan on staying so. Have kids with the first and a step kid with the second all on their own now in their 30s.

    Thing about happiness is I was happy single or married, just in different ways. Its a trade off. Will I do it a third time, no, but because I am much older and adjusting to another individual in my life and extended family is not something I would relish again.

    This is to say I do not understand how you would measure happiness as compared to how much more miserable or happy you would be in the opposite situation. Trade offs seem the key to me.

    If single you get to spend and date who you want, but with that comes the headache of wondering if they had safe sex with multiple partners, cost of dating, weird schedules and the like, being married you have presumably taken care of the single issues with your spouse, but now you are not having your way with who you want when you want or even spending how you want, but there is a stability there that is actually appealing to folks who like relationships.

    I just haven’t read enough studies I suppose, just lived life both ways and know I am very happy and very miserable at times in both situations. How exactly does one put a number on that?

    • David of Kirkland says

      What does it mean to say you are happy at all? I find I am what I think of as “happy” on occasion, but not all the time. In fact, happiness all the time sounds like madness.
      Happiness is a lame measure because it has no meaning. Half of all marriages end in divorce, so presumably marriage doesn’t make people happy unless hiring lawyers to divide up your life later makes you happy.
      Many would prefer not to be married, not to have children, not to have pets, except for the person they married, their children and their pets.

      • Art pranksters Gilbert and George were asked in an interview long ago if they were ‘happy’. After a long and considered pause they replied that they didn’t pursue ‘happiness’ because they did not consider it the most interesting state to be in. I think they may have had a point.

      • Jeremiah says

        If youre white or Asian, college educated and fully emplpyed then your chance for divorce goes way down from 50 percent. Also the newer generations in general are getting divorced less than baby boomers did. Also the divorce statistics are skewed by repeat offenders. There’s a lot of people who get divorced 2 or even 3 times. They skew the stats.

    • A C Harper says

      I regard feelings of happiness just like a green light on a car dashboard. Green (happiness) means things under the hood are good. Sometimes the light is yellow when things are not going well, and sometimes red when things are bad.

      But unless you are an auto mechanic with a host of diagnostic tools you won’t be able to tell why the light is green, or even that the old engine has been replaced or runs on a different fuel.

    • Jeremiah says

      If youre the type of person who makes a lot of friends easily and finds a lot to do then I could see being single being preferable, but if your the opposite type of person I see no way you wouldnt be happier married. At least assuming your married to someone you actually like and have fun with.

  2. Rev. Wazoo! says

    The crux of this is indeed that narrative-driven ersatz/bogus “research” brings genuine search for truth (and academia in general) into disrepute and regretably for the express purpose of sexistly hammering nearly half the world’s population as, by definition, selfishly exploitative.

    That it simultaneously commits a grievous falsehood against the most successful method of raising children significantly adds to its tragically malevolent duplicity. Lying that stable, two-parent families degrade the participants happiness is done with the clear intent to demean and thereby reduce such behavior.

    The impact of this on hapless children is an example of pushing an ideology whilst willfully blind of its impact on the lives of real people including both those minors and their parents.

    • Miguel Nutria says

      i share your take on this, Rev, but would point out to would be cultural Marxists and leftists in general you may win battles against the existence of family but you will not win the war. Roman, British, Nazi and Soviet empires all demanded loyalty to state before family, none now exist but families still do. Cosa Nostra, Ndrangheta and numerous Mexican family firms continue to prosper despite their obvious opposition to the governments who would control them. This is because people are animals subject to the vagaries of reproduction and evolution, where cause and effect is often random. Modern leftists hold that people are either Gods or Unicorns and as such exist in a magical world where belief replaces logic or evidence. How different they are from their founding fathers who had faith that reason would solve humanities’ problems. I wonder what Marx, Trotsky, Debray, Fanon etc would make of their modern replacements?

      • Corey Christensen says

        It’s because the people who put the state before family tend not to create families and therefore self select themselves out of the gene pool. This is why I don’t get upset when AOC declares having children immoral, cuz only the idiots will take her advice and therefore spare the next generation their idiocy.

  3. Lightning Rose says

    All of this descends from the New Religion called “Health,” which means micro-managing society to forcibly conform to the WHO’s 1948 definition of same (which no one has ever achieved, or ever will; it represents the pinnacle of utopian thinking). The globalist, increasingly digitized hierarchy would like very much to run our lives livestock on a feedlot, right down to bar-coded ear tags and tracking our steps, diet, breeding habits, even breaths. Even Orwell never saw this coming, as his era did not foresee the digital panopticon world.

    JUST SAY NO. Live the way you please, guard that old concept PRIVACY and do not share your personal business with corporations or strangers or randos online, do not sell the right to say or watch what you please in your own home for the sake of the “convenience” of devices we all lived without just fine until 15 minutes ago. Do not allow others to commodify and monetize your life!

    Do not feel peer-pressured into dating, sex with multiple partners, using dating apps or anything at all that makes you uncomfortable just because “everyone’s doing it.” And PLEASE don’t buy into any cockamamie selection-bias “science” that tells you you’re miserable, not nice or unnatural because you DON’T do any of these things. Do what makes YOU happy and keep it to yourself.

    I’m increasingly sure the actual HAPPY people of this world are the less educated, who don’t have a “need” to constantly compare themselves to chimeric “peer groups” due to intellectual insecurity. Obviously, the air gets a bit thin up there at the tippy-tip top of Maslow’s pyramid!

    • david of Kirkland says

      Ignorance is bliss. Many see this if they go away and stop seeing “the news” and more so if they stop seeing “social” media postings. You don’t actually want to be ignorant, but the more you know, often the less happy you are unless you can learn to let it go because humans be humans; they are not some perfection of happiness, wisdom, care and love.

  4. donotreply says

    Haven’t read the rest yet, but I don’t understand Figure 10. You say the rank is from 0 to 6, but the y-axis is from 1 to 1.7. What gives?

    • Richard says

      The author covers this a paragraph or two after the graph is presented, making the point that even the difference between the smallest and largest bars is relatively small, hardly enough to justify the miserable claim. It’s clear Dolan had wanted to magnify the differences by presenting them on a truncated scale.

  5. Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

    So, is it, “Are you married, or are you happy?”

    Or is it, “Happy wife = Happy life?”

    I’ve been married t(o same woman) nearly 34 years, and I’m not sure myself.

    The best advice I have is, before opening ones pie hole in reaction to something said spouse does, take a few seconds to consider whether you want to be right, or want to be happy, because, those outcomes are mutually exclusive.

    • Max York says

      Excellent advice. I would add to that, adopt the practice of selective hearing.
      If you get in a crack anyway, throw money. If that won’t fix it, you are in deep doo-doo.

  6. E. Olson says

    Of course the pro-abortion, anti-male, pro-welfare state Guardian and their readership would love to hear from an “academic expert” that marriage is bad, especially for females because it supports their entire agenda and misery loves company.

    • Klaus C. says

      Being “pro-abortion” just means they’re in accord with majority public opinion. Being “pro-welfare state” just means they’re in accord with majority public opinion. But no, they’re not “anti-male”.

      (And Nicholas Wolfinger, who wrote this article, is also pro-choice and pro-welfare state).

      • Peter from Oz says

        I wonder where you got the idea that the majority of people are pro-abortion. I suspect it will be an opinion poll. We have all seen in recent times how unreliable such polls are. In any case there is always this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

        • Nakatomi Plaza says

          Some very cursory research makes it obvious that a majority of Americans support the right to abortion, at least under certain circumstances.

          So, I wonder what excuse you could possibly have for not knowing this? And in response to an article advocating for academic integrity and accountability? How do you explain your ignorance?

          • Peter from Oz says

            But dear little NP, the only way you can prove that a majority of Americans support anything is through conducting an opinion poll. Opinion polls are notoriously suspect, as we have seen in so many elections around the world. Thus why can we conclude that the opinion polls on the abortion question would be any more accurate? Academic accountability and integrity depend upon looking at correct facts, me old china. You can apply all the rigour you like to investigating something and pontificating on its cause, but it won’t help you find truth unless the underlying facts are correct.

          • Azathoth says

            “Some very cursory research makes it obvious that a majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion, at least under most circumstances.

            So, I wonder what excuse you could possibly have for not knowing this? And in response to an article advocating for academic integrity and accountability? How do you explain your ignorance?”

            Just as true as yours.

            Because there are small numbers at each end who want access unfettered and no access at all–and a big majority in the middle who want fettered access.

      • E. Olson says

        Klaus – thanks for the hard hitting critique of my comment, which leads me to believe I should have been more specific. Yes a majority support abortion for saving the mother’s life, and somewhat fewer support abortion in the case of rape or incest, but only a small minority well represented by Guardian editors and readers support virtually unlimited abortion rights. Similarly with welfare, a majority support a basic safety net (temporary help or longer-term help for the truly handicapped) but far fewer again well represented by the Guardian demographic support long-term welfare for able-bodied or free “stuff” in general if they are told how much taxes will need to be increased to pay for them. As for anti-male for your well documents belief that the Guardian is not anti-male, can you please show me evidence that suggests the Guardian has ever shown skepticism towards the “me too” movement or the gender pay gaps, or that they generally do not subscribe to the idea of toxic masculinity and “unfair” patriarchy?

        And why would I care about what Nicholas Wolfinger believes?

  7. Geary Johansen says

    @ E. Olson

    Great Comment. Just as the feminist narrative ignores the fact that some women prefer to be home-makers, most opt for a healthy work-to-life balance and only a relative minority choose to pursue a 60+ hour a week career for a full 30+ years of their lives. They fail to recognise the uneven incentives that men and women face when choosing how much of their life they wish to sacrifice to what can often be a mind-numbing drudge.

    Face it- men are basically forced by society to adopt attitudes to life that are just plain insane.

  8. Klaus C. says

    I’d say that not only Dolan, but also Wolfinger and most researchers in this area all seem to make the mistake of implying that any given individual will be happier/ unhappier in the circumstances that the chosen statistics favour.

    For example, the idea that “marriage is better for men” obviously doesn’t apply to men such as myself who would indeed be fucking miserable if married, because we’re totally unsuited to such a life and have zero desire for it.

    If a statistical sample apparently shows that married people are happier than singles, that doesn’t mean those singles who actually choose to be single would be happier if married – indeed it’s safe to assume they would be less happy, because such a life would not accord with their choice.

    • Stephanie says

      Klaus, no where in this article is it implied that every individual would be happier if they joined the cohort that is the most happy. These statistics simply exist, it is you projectioning this onto them, apparently out of defensiveness over your own lot in life.

      • Klaus C. says

        These statistics don’t “simply exist”, they’ve been “collected” by debatable methods involving debatable assumptions and further debatable assumptions are drawn from the conclusions.

        Obviously there are countless factors going on in people’s lives that influence their degree of happiness or unhappiness, regardless of marital status.

        So inevitably these “reported happiness” stats are dubious unless they’re based on surveys that are able to effectively restrict themselves to specific factors.

        Assuming that there is some value in such statistics, we have to bear in mind that when comparing a random married sample with a random single sample, the single sample will very probably include a higher number of individuals unhappy with their current status, i.e., single people who would actually prefer to have a partner.

        Restricting the samples to people who identify their marital status as “happily married” or “happily single”, in surveys that restrict themselves to happiness in relation to marital status, there’s no logical reason why there should be any statistical difference between the two groups.

        • Stephanie says

          The article specifies that the happiness disparity persists after accounting for other relevant factors, which is far more robust than your proposed method where you compare happy married people with happy singles. That’s like saying that Asians and Europeans have the same average height if you restrict your analysis to people over 6 feet. Worse, because it would serve no purpose to compare the married and single people who claim to be very happy: you’ve already selected for identical populations, so that’s all you’ll see. Biasing your dataset leads to junk science.

          Your strange data collection approach tells me that your concern with “debatable” assumptions and “dubious” stastics isn’t coming from an impartial fidelity to rigorous statistical methods, but from a desire for the results to be different than they are. If you’re a happy single person you shouldn’t feel insecure over such statistics, it gives people the impression you’re not as happy as you claim. Ever hear the expression “thou doth protest too much?”

          • Klaus C. says

            You miss my point. Both conservatives and progressives (and the popular media) use these data sets in a misleadingly “prescriptive” sense, e.g., “data says marriage is the key to happiness” etc.

            So it’s important to remind people that “happily marrieds” and “happily singles” are equally happy in regard to their marital status, even though it’s stating the obvious – because it’s not usually obvious in these statistics, and the way they’re presented.

            And I can can you assure I don’t feel remotely insecure 🙂

        • Peter from Oz says

          Klaus C.
          I agree with you on this point. The idea that you can measure happiness from self reported data is absolute tosh.
          Just yesterday I took part in a psychological study on chronic pain. I was asked over 100 questions that tried to link my ”unhappiness” levels with my pain levels. Most of the questions were silly and relied on me giving a gradient score. I flicked through them and just put what first came into my head. I assume that most other people filling in the form did the same. So I doubt whether the study will find out anything new. But really annoyed me was the fact that the study missed several questions and did not allow for any qualitative assessment by the subjects.
          In fact the whole thing reminded me of the telephone opinion polls I answered in the lead up to a by election in my Federal parliamentary constituency in 2018. I was polled about 6 times in 2 weeks. Each time they’d ask questions about the issues they thought were the most important but would never give the subject the opportunity to say that he or she found other issues more important. WHen the polls were reportedof course they showed that the 3 issues the pollsters had delineated were the ones that those polled cared about. Of course they didn’t publish the questions they’d asked which gave us no choice as to whether we tought any other issues were relevant.

  9. Marc Domash says

    Regarding:

    Below is a mock-up of the figure, with elements missing to avoid copyright law hot water:

    Fair use and academic practice allows the reproduction of graphs and figures from other works, particularly for critical comment. At least, this is true in the US–not so sure about Australia.

  10. OleK says

    What I’m mostly shocked about is that Vox did the right thing. A broken clock is right twice a day thing?

  11. Etiamsi omnes says

    “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met each other.”

    SACHA GUITRY

  12. El Uro says

    Paul Dolan brings to my mind Laputa’s scientists. But he is even more stupid.
    By the way, when I rest in the fall or spring, I don’t see people more caring about each other than mature couples. I do not know, they are happy or not. But they definitely love each other.

  13. RTW says

    many high-status academics aren’t fascinated by the universe and wish to explore it (intellectually), but rather are status-seeking narcissists who want people to pay attention to them and think that they’re clever.

    i have experience from graduate school with a sort of academic telephone, where the student does the research and the professor takes some kind of sticky soundbite that may-or-may-not be accurate and then runs to a conference/the press to share “their” result with the other highly paid idiots who don’t do their own research. fortunately for me, i did applied math, so if the method or code didn’t live up to the expectations my adviser set, it would quickly become clear and everybody would move on, but it seems in the social sciences that there are few checks on these terrible ideas going mainstream and then misleading the public.

    i really don’t think science benefited in the long run from its enormous gains in funding/status over the later half of the 20th century

    • El Uro says

      It’s much worse.
      «I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere» © George Orwell

  14. Nate D. says

    It’s almost as if he has an agenda and he’s trying to manipulate the data to support his presuppositions.

  15. Tom Shen says

    Some people marry to be with the person they love; others just want to be married, and don’t necessarily pick someone they could love, or even like. This latter group skews these surveys, and makes the research suspect.

  16. Stephanie says

    This gross misrepresentation of simple data suggests to me that Dolan didn’t write this book to educate people, but to push a particular lifestyle. What is it? You’ll be happier if you stay single and have no kids? Earning more money won’t make you happier, so don’t bother finishing school, working hard, or starting a business? What is the goal here, encouraging people to be atomized mediocrities?

    • Klaus C. says

      Conservatives also interpret this kind of debatable data (not “simple data”) to support their own ideological agendas all the time. Quillette regularly publishes articles by conservative academics that do precisely this.

      • Stephanie says

        Simple data compared to real science. Social scientists have such an easy job, they have no excuse for getting such straightforward data interpretation so wrong.

        Your unexplained and unsupported claims of statistical misuse in previous unnamed Quillette articles suggests you’re simply looking to deflect criticism away from your preferred narrative. Thou doth protest too much.

        • Klaus C. says

          Have a look at articles by Clay Routledge (including the recent one interviewing Bradford Wilcox, another conservative academic). These are people who overtly push a conservative prescriptive interpretation of whole binders full of dubious statistics.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Klaus C.
            Once again I have to agree with you, up to a point. Just about all social science staistics are dubious. Putting a left or right wing spin on them really doesn’t really add much to the sum of our knowledge. But at least in most cases people on both sides at least put up some pretence of objectivity. In this case Dolan got things very wrong indeed. Hence you tu quoque fallacy of a defence of Dolan really won’t cut it.
            You remind me of the bloke who tries to defend a man who has been caught beating another man with a baseball bat by referring to the fact that other people were out there on the same day littering.

  17. Angus Black says

    Now, reappear after me: “Correlation is not causation”.

    Here is my question, therefore: How do you know that married people are happy (happier) because they are married rather than “married and remaining married” because they are happy?

    There is an obvious case for marrying (and eating to stay married to) someone who is happy/content over someone who is a curmudgeon, don’t you think.

    • Stephanie says

      Angus, I wondered the same thing. It is possible that people who don’t get married tend to more miserable to begin with, which impacts their ability to attract a mate. However, causation is not really discussed in this article, merely which way the correlation runs.

      • Klaus C. says

        It’s also possible that there are plenty of people who don’t get married because they prefer to live alone and enjoy other people’s company in a less intrusive way.

        And plenty of these people, like me, are very attractive 🙂

        Also, many people who do get married come to miss their privacy and personal freedom. And the number of failed marriages is huge.

  18. Angus Black says

    You can blame Steve Jobs for the rather odd spelling “corrections” in my post above.

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  21. Nakatomi Plaza says

    As I was reading through this I couldn’t understand why it was relevant and why anybody here would be expected to care about this controversy. Then I understood: you guys only care because you think this is some sort of leftist attack on marriage, which bothers you for some unknown reason (because you’re right-wingers, I suppose).

    To be clear: Quillette doesn’t give a fuck about academic integrity; you’re only interested in defending your ideological turf by any means necessary.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      @Nakatomi
      Thanks for your inclusivity (and projection); because you don’t care about academic integrity and judge others’ actions primarily on how you evaluate the political fallout, you see the same everywhere you look. You also seem to think calling people “right-wingers” has some special meaning which I’ve yet to define.

      To help me in that, please let us know roughly what percentage of people are ” right-wingers” and, at least vaguely, what defines them that way. Are there ” left-wingers”? Is there such a thing as the far left? Are There left-wing extremists?

      We await your advice on this matter.

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  25. DVW says

    This is the second piece in the last few weeks I’ve seen about this married-and-unhappy business. I keep waiting for someone to explain how self-selection factors into the data analysis.

    “Self-selection,” of course, is what makes social science data analysis way more interesting and tricky than all other data analysis. It’s just another way of saying that its not obvious what the mechanisms of “cause-and-effect”. Perhaps, for example, married folks tend to be crankier than others, but, for some reason, these same folks tend to have a preference for the marriage contract over other ways of organizing their lives. It’s hard to imagine why that would be true, but it does amount to an hypothesis.

    I have to admit that I can’t entirely suppress the nagging suggestion that the “happiness” research constitutes but one front in the war on marriage and traditional ways of organizing the family. The trendy thing is to dress up in “science” the ideas that we can choose our gender; nuclear families should go the way of Brave New World; “It Takes a Village,” which is just a romantic way of suggesting that nuclear families should go the way of Brave New World; etc…

  26. Marxists and other Progressive intellectuals ID’d the family as an obstacle to their Utopia long ago. Perhaps the most clear statement on this is made by Friederich Engels in his essay, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.

    What is made clear is that the “private” environment of the family is the primary social influence on children, and the family teaches an ingroup loyalty in conflict with Utopian ideals of the Leftist state. Despite protestations above in the comments that other societies demanded loyalty to the state above all else (true in the U.S. for men, as only men can be drafted), no other society produced as deep a critique of the family AND set about to destroy the family.

    What do you think divorce on demand for any reason is about? Women working in “careers” not as a choice but rather as an imperative for a woman personally? Abortion on demand? It’s not just about control and power for women, it’s about destroying that family unit. Why pay single mothers to have children?

    The Romans never tried to supplant the family, but again, deceptive commenters upthread do not want you to face the ugly truth of the Left’s ideological agenda. When Hillary wrote “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”, she meant instead of a family.

    Funniest about Leftists? The elite peddlers of these ideas in academia or media or politics mostly live like conservatives. They marry, don’t have illegitimate children, even attend church regularly (although it’s likely to be a radically political church like the Unitarians). They divorce at much lower rates than the general population – but for “others” the family is just not central. They are very happy to see “single mothers” about. And don’t you dare shame them even though they consume the vast majority of welfare and destine their children to higher risk, lower success lives, and claim to be unhappy themselves. In fact, the whining of single mothers is now a national past-time, but God forbid you ask “why did you have a baby without the father involved”? Lol.

    This guy Dolan was just producing more agitprop for this mission. He’ll be okay, just like any leftist who blows themselves up for the cause, he’ll quietly be disciplined and forgiven or if he has to make a move, he’ll get offers from another university or an NGO or nonprofit or activist organization.

    • Yes. Anybody who is even slightly awake knows that there has been a very long and concerted campaign in the West to destroy the family for various political, economic and social reasons. Professor Dolan – however ineptly – is operating in that revolutionary tradition. Far from being a “cautionary tale”, the example of Professor Dolan should teach us all that hucksterism does, in fact, pay, so long as you are hawking the official line.

  27. Rev. Wazoo! says

    It’s good to see an author called to account (not. “called out”) both for slip-shod agenda-driven “research” but the even more egregious acedemic malfeasance of deliberately misrepresenting a colleague’s good-faith research.

    I truly fear the reaction such duplicity will create: the wholesale de-funding of the humanities. Unless such behavior becomes the exception rather than the rule, the people will be left with little choice as even more intrusive micro-management of universities is neither practicable nor desirable.

    But the wholesale re-composition of boards of trustees in the foreseeable does allow some arm’s-length avenues to help universities backtrack to fulfilling their mandated objectives.

  28. Kyle says

    The married tend to assess their lives more favorably than the unmarried but this does not mean that marriage made them happier. It could be that many people with badly organized lives and mental problems do not get or stay married. And, they tend to be less happy.

    A fairly robust social scientific finding. You see it again and again. But, correlation, not causation.

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