Survey: Married people more likely than singles to be optimistic about the American dream

While rising costs have led many Americans to doubt the continued existence of the American dream, Married people remain most optimistic about it, a new survey shows. 

Analysis of the 2022…

While rising costs have led many Americans to doubt the continued existence of the American dream, Married people remain most optimistic about it, a new survey shows. 

Analysis of the 2022 American Family Survey reveals that married people are over 10% more likely than the unmarried to believe they are “better off” than their parents were at their age. 

A recent Wall Street Journal/NORC survey published in November found only 36% of voters still have faith that they can get ahead if they work hard – the crux of the American dream. That percentage is a sharp drop from the 53% who were optimistic about their economic path in 2012, and ties in with the finding in the new survey that half the voters say life in America is worse than it was 50 years ago. 

Writing at Institute for Family Studies (IFS), however, Bryant Lee, a senior at Brigham Young University, observed the contrast in the survey responses between those who are married and the remainder of the public. 

When participants were asked to assess their own financial status, in comparison with their parents when they were their age: 

“Married respondents were over 10% more likely to believe that they were ‘better off’ than their parents were at their age, in direct contrast to individuals who are not married,” he wrote. “Similarly, the married were 10% less likely to believe that they were ‘worse off,’ indicating that their heightened optimism corresponds directly with a departure from pessimism and not merely just a slimming of ambivalence.” 

Lee also noted the optimism was observed across ages. 

 “Among both the old and the young, married couples maintain their brighter outlook,” he wrote. 

Additionally, the survey found married individuals were more likely – at a rate more than 5% higher than the unmarried – to hold the view that their children would also be “better off” than they are, suggesting an optimism for the future as well as the present. 

“These higher rates of positivity mark a stark divergence from the national narrative that is becoming increasingly more cynical regarding the economic prospects of future Americans,” Lee wrote, concluding that while those venturing into a marriage may already possess a certain amount of optimism, still, the institution of marriage “seems to provide a sense of security to respondents.” 

Other recent studies also point to the same stability and sense of happiness in life among those who are married. 

Last month, a Gallup survey found married couples are more likely to be happy in the present and to expect happiness in the future as well. Additionally, married couples were more likely to experience a “strong and loving” relationship with their children than cohabitating couples. 

Married people, Jonathan Rothwell noted at Gallup, “are more likely to be thriving than those who have never married or are divorced” and are “also more likely to practice a religion, and religious practice is also positively correlated with subjective wellbeing.” 

Australian researchers Christian and Caroline Heim also reported at IFS in March their findings that, despite “unprecedented rates of marriage decrease and divorce increase” over the past 50 years, many younger couples have a strong desire to make their marriages last. 

The researchers asked couples from different countries who had been together between 3 and 15 years: “If you could pose a question to couples married over 40 years, what would it be?” 

“The most popular question asked by those married 6-10 years was ‘What is your secret to staying together?’” they reported, noting the question suggests a desire to remain married. Additionally, when older married couples were asked to reply to the questions from their younger counterparts, “commitment” was named as the most popular “secret” (11%). 

“Couples told us that commitment was ‘essential,’ ‘the glue,’ ‘vital,’ and ‘the ultimate important thing,’” the author wrote. “We were told that commitment encompassed marriage vows, ‘sticking together’ in times of hardship, and actively showing commitment to the relationship “on a daily basis.”  

Lee observed the optimism seen in married individuals may be related to the fact that the institution is focused on sharing “goals and resources” and making “important decisions together.” 

“This joint approach to matters (including finances) lends itself to confident decision-making and secure economic foundations,” he said. “Perhaps most importantly, marriage fosters an environment for stable families – ones who are more secure, interconnected, and ultimately more optimistic.”