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Separation, Divorce Linked to Sharply Lower Well-Being

Separation, Divorce Linked to Sharply Lower Well-Being

by Alyssa Davis and Jeffrey M. Jones

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' well-being differs greatly by marital status, according to data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Americans who are married have the highest levels of well-being (68.8), while those who are divorced (59.7) and, in particular, those who are separated experience the lowest levels of well-being (55.9). Those who are single, living with a domestic partner, or widowed fall in between.

Wellbeing Index by Marital Status

The findings are based on 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data, including subgroup sample sizes ranging from more than 6,000 separated U.S. adults up to more than 190,000 married adults. The difference in well-being between married and non-married populations is highly statistically significant given the large sample sizes.

The differences in well-being by marital status are also some of the largest Gallup finds within any demographic subgroups. For example, the roughly 13-point difference in Well-Being Index scores between the highest and lowest scoring marital status groups compares with a maximum 5.2-point difference by racial group, a maximum 3.2-point difference by age group, and a 0.1-point difference between genders.

The Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The Index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where a score of 100 would represent ideal well-being.

Gallup has found consistent differences in well-being by marital status each year since it began tracking in 2008.

Trend in Wellbeing Index by marital status since 2008

Well-Being Lowest for Separated Americans Across Well-Being Sub-Indexes

Separated Americans score lowest, or tied for the lowest, on each of the six sub-indexes that comprise the overall index. They score especially low on life evaluation, emotional health, and basic access to health necessities such as a doctor and a safe place to exercise, with scores more than 10 points below the national average on each. Divorced Americans have slightly better scores than separated Americans on each of the six well-being dimensions, but also have life evaluation scores that are well below the national average. Separated Americans may have lower scores than divorced Americans, especially on the Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, and Basic Access Indexes because the end of their marriages may be more recent than those who are already divorced.

Wellbeing Sub-index scores by Marital Status

Widowed Americans, like divorced and separated Americans, also score poorly on life evaluation. That likely is a factor of age, since older Americans generally have low life evaluation scores and predominantly make up the group of widowed people. However, widowed Americans, like older Americans more generally, score relatively well on the other dimensions, so their overall well-being score is not as low as it is for divorced or separated Americans.

Married Americans are the only marital group that scores above the national average on each of the six dimensions. Notably, they score significantly better than those living with a partner on each, specifically in the areas of access to basic necessities, healthy behaviors, work environment, and emotional health.

Single Americans' life evaluation and physical health scores rival those of married Americans, but single Americans generally score below average on the other well-being dimensions.


In the U.S., one's marital status appears to have an impact on one's well-being. Americans who are married have higher well-being than those who are not married, with those currently separated or divorced lagging far behind.

This research does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case. It is possible that Americans who have higher well-being are more likely to choose marriage than those with lower well-being, or that some third variable -- such as religiosity or age -- could be related to both higher well-being and one's likelihood of being married.

Clearly, marriage has economic benefits and ending a marriage can have serious economic consequences, which helps explain part of the gap in well-being by marital status. Indeed, Gallup data from 2011 shows that 22% of married Americans have household incomes of $90,000 or above annually, compared with 8% of divorced and 6% of separated Americans.

Marriage also brings companionship, emotional support, and partnership in dealing with life's ups and downs that can foster a higher level of personal well-being. Social interaction is inherently part of marriage, and Gallup analyses have clearly shown that time spent socially and social networks themselves are positively associated with high well-being.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011, with a random sample of 353,492 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

The margin of error for separated Americans is ±2 percentage points and is ±1 percentage points for all other subgroups. Sample sizes are below:

Sample Sizes

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone-only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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