Catherine Rampell reported last week that it may be Alvin Wong - a man that fits the "statistical composite for the happiest person in America, based on the characteristics that most closely correlated with happiness in 2010." Wong is a "tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year." After flagging research on the correlation between marriage and happiness, Will Wilkinson inserts a few qualifiers:
Many people experience a big boost in post-nuptial happiness, which slowly recedes toward the pre-marriage baseline. However, marriage is a huge downer for others (incompatible partner? not the marrying kind?). These folks mostly get over it, but not entirely. The result (in this study) is that marriage has no effect on average, even though it has a pretty significant effect, one way or another, for most everyone.
The important takeaway, then, is that averages conceal important information. What you want to know is not whether or not marriage makes people happier on average, but whether you are the kind of person for whom happiness is a boon or a bummer. The same goes for children. If you’re young, poor, and single, a kid is probably not going to brighten your life. If you’re a relatively-rich, highly-educated thirty-something, kids are pretty likely to give your happiness a boost. And even within each of these demographic cohorts, there’s going to be significant variation based on personality, cost-of-living, access to childcare, etc .
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