Is cohabitation as good as marriage for people’s subjective well-being? Longitudinal evidence on happiness and life satisfaction in the British Household Panel Survey

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

December 27, 2016


This study investigates changes in happiness and life satisfaction associated with transitions into cohabitation and marriage in 12 waves from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) collected between 1997 and 2009. Theory suggests that happiness is an emotional state that is linked to one’s physiological reactions to life events, whereas satisfaction is a cognitive evaluation that also depends on social comparisons with other important reference groups as well as the individual’s desires, expectations and hopes. A longitudinal (fixed effects) analysis that controls for time-invariant variation in subjective well-being indicates that entering cohabitation is as beneficial for people’s happiness as entering marriage. Entering marriage is slightly more satisfying than cohabitation but only among previously never-married individuals. This is true for men and women and across age and cohorts. These findings indicate that cohabitation provides similar benefits to marriage with regard to happiness but not how previously never married individuals view their overall satisfaction with their lives.

Published in

Journal of Happiness Studies






Online Early

Not held in Hilary Doughty Research Library - bibliographic reference only



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest