You probably don’t associate love with numbers, formulas, and concrete data; instead, you think of the opposite, of irrationality and emotion. So it’ll likely come as a surprise that two economists at the University of Virginia found quantitative evidence of love.
Leora Friedberg and Steven Stern did this by comparing married couples’ answers to two powerful questions about the quality of their marriage with their divorce rates six years later.
Here are the two questions, which are from the long-term National Survey of Families and Households, administered by the University of Wisconsin:
- How happy are you in your marriage relative to how happy you would be if you weren’t in the marriage? [Much worse; worse; same; better; much better.]
- How do you think your spouse answered that question?
The researchers examined how 4,242 households answered those questions in a 1987-88 wave of the survey, and then again about six years later for the 1992-94 wave.
According to the press release, only 40.9% of couples accurately identified how their spouse would answer the first question. This means that almost 60% of couples had “asymmetric” information about each other, and roughly a quarter of those had “serious” discrepancies in overall happiness (differing by more than one response category).
The logic is that by accurately answering the question about your spouse’s happiness, you are demonstrating that you in-tune with their feelings. Those who overestimate their spouse’s happiness are more likely to ask more of them, which could drive a less-happy spouse into the arms of a less-demanding partner.
The answers to the first question were also very revealing. The data showed that those who felt there were no better off married than single tended to wind up single.
So, how does this information prove love? Friedberg explains:
The idea of love here is that you get some happiness from your spouse simply being happy. For instance, I might agree to do more house chores, which reduces my personal happiness somewhat, but I get some offsetting happiness simply knowing that my partner benefits.
While these questions may not seem helpful for those who are not yet married, they can certainly help couples identify problems in their relationship that could eventually cause its demise. As evidenced by this study, it’s essential to keep an open line of communication with your partner and pay close attention to his or her level of happiness.