I've only very recently even thought about marriage as a personal possibility in the next five years (made especially acute last weekend by a bachelor party), and I'm quite fortunate both financially and physically. The biggest sacrifice for me would be the devotion of time required. I perpetually feel strapped for time as it is--the plunge would be life-changing, and force me to abandon a lot of the pursuits that make me happy (at least while I'm engaged in them) that I throw myself into now. In short, I am one of those young men Savage is talking about.
The evidence that married people express higher levels of happiness than unmarried people do (especially among men, in contrast to the Game narrative) is pretty well established. But what about when the people in question are include only those in their late teens and twenties?
We could get into a discussion over what constitutes true happiness and field the legitimate criticism that self-reports set to a numerical scale are a shallow way to measure it. Also, I'm not controlling for other variables because trying to disentangle the marriage question from the social landscape surrounding it is fraught with an arbitrariness that allows for a range of preferred conclusions to be spun out. Present the datum as is, and the phrase "AE reports, you decide" applies. Yeah, I still like to intersperse a bit of my own commentary here and there, but it's not my starting point. I'm being entirely honest when I say that I cobble together most of a post before I even look at the data.
That said, the GSS reliably asks a simple question on self-perceptions of happiness levels. It is measured on a three point scale, inverted here so that higher scores indicate greater happiness. The following table shows average (mean) scores for men and women, by marital status, between the ages of 18-29 at the time of their participation in the survey. For contemporary relevance, only responses from 2000 onward are included (n = 2,305):
About one-quarter of Americans under the age of 30 are married, and despite the limitations it places on the individual, people who have made the plunge express higher levels of happiness than the unmarried majority does. One standard deviation is .62, so the differences in self-reported happiness between the married and unmarried are significant--it's half of a SD among men and nearly half of one among women.
My interpretation is that a family gives a person something to devote his life to in a way that must ultimately be more fulfilling than serial pleasure seeking (or novelty seeking, challenge seeking, glory seeking, etc) does. My aunt just sent me an old picture of my dad holding me as an infant in a rocking chair. He's almost exactly the same age in the photo as I am now. Looking at him, I can't help but feel he deserved to be happier at that age than I am today.
GSS variables used: MARITAL(1)(2-5), HAPPY, SEX, AGE, YEAR(2000-2010)