Thursday, October 8, 2015

Haven in a heartless world

A couple of months ago, the New York Times reported on some research by W. Bradford Wilcox saying that Republicans are happier with their marriages than Democrats are.  It's a bit more complicated than that, because strong Democrats and Republicans report being happier with their marriages than independents or weak partisans, but basically the claim is correct.  But neither the article nor the original research asked whether this relationship was specific to marriage or part of a more general tendency.  To investigate this, I used a 2005 Pew survey that asked people how satisfied they were with ten different aspects of their life.  I considered correlations with both self-rated ideology and partisanship (independents were closer to Democrats than Republicans, so I gave them a score 3/4 of the way between the partisans).  I list the items by average correlation:  a positive number means that Democrats/liberals are more dissatisfied.

                                      Ideo   Party
Household income                    .153   .211
Standard of living                  .140   .202
Happy with life                     .139   .187
Your job                            .111   .152
Housing                             .109   .117
Free time                           .078   .081
Relationship with spouse            .081   .079
Family life                         .054   .096
Relationship with parents           .047   .037
Relationship with children          .026   .052

Liberals and Democrats tend to be less satisfied with everything.  Beyond that, the items fall into two groups:  those involving material things are more strongly associated with ideology and party, while those involving family and free time are less strongly associated.  So although the claim reported in the article was correct, it was misleading because it suggested that liberals and Democrats were dissatisfied with family life in particular. In fact, you could interpret it in the opposite way:  for liberals and Democrats, the family provides (partial) relief from the world outside.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


  1. David:

    Just a quick question: do these correlations change over time? I ask because we saw some interesting patterns regarding political ideology and happiness as reported in GSS, with different results during different time periods.

    1. That's a good question, and I don't know the answer. The Pew survey I used was a one-off thing. But I think in addition to the general happiness question the GSS has some questions about satisfaction with different aspects of life. Gallup had a group of satisfied/dissatisfied questions that goes back to the 1960s.