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For Better
How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed
Tara Parker-Pope
read on November 1, 2010

Just look at the cover. How refreshing is the idea of a book on marriage and relationships based on scientific study, on falsifiable hypotheses, instead of self-help platitudes and moral/religious aphorisms? Parker-Pope is a former health journalist who got divorced after 17 years and decided to turn her focus on marriages to see what she could have done different. The result is a pretty decent introduction to a lot of the (relatively recent) work that's being done studying marriages, sexuality, and happiness.

Some highlights:

  • Women can smell out a preferred partner's scent in from their dirty t-shirts. The "smells" they find most attractive belong to males with specific genes that are most different than those of the women. Incredible! Men cannot do the same. However....
  • All else held constant, men will tip an ovulating stripper twice as much as a non-ovulating one, and they'll tip half as much to a women currently on her period. (Hard to imagine exactly how other variables would be held constant here.. but interesting - there's no leading theory on how men are able to sense this).
  • Having children pretty much always makes a marriage worse, by about 10%. All the way until they move out. (Kiddos do raise other levels of satisfaction.. probably to a net gain.. but still they always make marriage worse.) The takeaway here: go ahead and have kids if you want them, but don't ever do it to try and save a marriage.
  • It costs $240,000 to raise one child to age 18. That doesn't include any opportunity cost either (stalled career, time off work, etc). That's a LOT.
  • Disagreement about household duties are a major source of marriage trouble. It's a good idea to work them out equitably among both partners.
  • Happiness may be genetic. Typically people spend their whole lives at a pretty constant level of overall happiness. Twins separated at birth are also typically equally happy, despite being raised differently and living in totally different conditions.

Author Bio:

Tara Parker-Pope, a professional reporter for twenty years, writes a weekly consumer health column and daily health blog for The New York Times, and prior to that was the health columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Her special Wall Street Journal report on the findings of the Women's Health Initiative earned her the Media Award from the North American Menopause Society, as well as the Second Century Award for Excellence in Health Care from the Columbia University School of Nursing.