This is who you hang out with when you're single:

These are your friends once you're married:
Does getting married make you happier, healthier, more integrated into society, and better off in physical, emotional, and interpersonal ways? I've spent nearly two decades making the case that those kinds of claims are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. Plus, there are essential ways in which lifelong single people do better than people who get married. But I don't think there is a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to whether staying single or getting married is better. Let me explain.

What the Research Really Shows

The kinds of studies and comparisons used to support the claim that Marriage Wins just don't pass scientific muster. They are biased in ways that make married people seem to be doing better than they really are and single people worse (as explained in more detail here and here and here). Used as the basis for claiming that getting married benefits people psychologically, the comparisons are scientifically indefensible.

What's more, even with that significant, fat advantage built right into the research, sometimes it is the lifelong single people, rather than the currently married people, who are doing their best. Single people are the healthiest in some studies, including a few based on large, representative national samples. If you follow people over time as they go from being single to getting married and staying married, they end up no happier than they were when they were single. On average, those who get married and then divorce end up less comfortable than they were when they were single. Getting married is no royal road to longevity, either.

Lifelong single people do better than married people in various ways that don't get all that much attention. For example, they do more to maintain their ties to friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, and coworkers than married people do. They do more than their share of volunteering and helping people, such as aging parents, who need much help. They experience more autonomy and self-determination and more personal growth and development.

But It's Not a Contest: No One Side is the Winner

Since I gave an address at the American Psychological Association in August, making the points I just summarized, celebratory headlines have multiplied. Some claim that single people are happier or more prosperous and meaningful lives. After decades of seeing nothing but Marriage Wins headlines, I should enjoy this new sensibility.

The problem, though, is that I'm not actually saying that Singles Win. Yes, there are some profoundly essential ways in which single people do better than married people. And those ways in which we are so sure that married people are doing better—well, often, they don't really hold up to scientific scrutiny.