The Impact of Friendships on Single and Married People
Being happy is mainly about having strong social relationships.
Posted April 7, 2019
In the United States, there are record amounts of single people. According to data from the 2017 Census, there are more than 110 million adult single Americans. All over the world, people are opting for the single life as the cultural and societal norms of society have shifted, the economic incentive to get married has declined, and individualistic values have risen.
But the rise of singlehood has inspired its share of criticism: society teaches us that married people have someone to help them and support them in time of need, while single people are lonely.
However, a mounting amount of research shows that this is a myth. Being happy is not about being married but rather about having strong social relationships. William Chopik, a Michigan State University professor, conducted a study with more than 270,000 people in about 100 countries. He found that among people aged 65 or older, meaningful friendships were stronger indicators of health and happiness than familial relationships. As people age, friendships become increasingly more important for people’s health. Chopik found that single seniors (either divorced or never married) who have good friends are just as happy and healthy as married people. While familial relationships can be beneficial, of course, they sometimes come with difficulties and hectic interactions.
Maybe it will surprise some, but friendships are something that singles excel at. Recent studies show that singles have more friends and are better at maintaining their friendships than married people. In contrast, married couples tend to spend a majority of their time with their partner, and often leave friendships behind.
A 2015 study conducted by Natalia Sarkisian and Naomi Gerstel discovered that “being single increases the social connections of both women and men.” Not only do single people have more friends, but they are also better at maintaining their friendships. In contrast, when people get married, they tend to leave their friends behind. Sarkisian and Gerstel concluded that single people are more likely to keep in contact with and receive assistance from friends, family, and neighbors than those who are married.
Another piece of research shows that on average, people in a committed relationship tend to lose two close friends. Both married and exclusive couples tend to spend the majority of their time with their partner at the expense of spending time with friends. Oftentimes, marriages have a negative impact on people’s relationships with other people.
In turn, friendships have a strong and positive impact on singles. A 75 year Harvard study on human happiness found that the best indicator of happiness is good social relationships. Another study conducted in the UK found that 45-year-olds with 10 or more friendships had higher levels of psychological well-being and happiness at age 50 than individuals with fewer friendships. It all sums up to an advantage that singles hold.
No doubt, multiple studies show the benefits of having friends. Humans need relationships of some kind, but they don't necessarily need marriages and romantic partnerships to be happy. Once people begin to stop questioning “why they are single” and embrace and take advantage of their singlehood, they will reap the benefits of being single. Perhaps it is time to fully eradicate the idea that single people are miserable and lonely. Single people can and do live their happily ever after.
This article was written with Lindsay Workman, UC Berkeley.