By Laurie Puhn
Almost every couple has one: that seemingly trivial fight that just keeps cropping up, day after day, month after month, making you feel as if you're stuck in your very own version of Groundhog Day. Perhaps it's about your husband's leaving his cereal bowl by the sink rather than in the dishwasher, or your forgetting — oops! — to tell him that his mother called. The issues that trigger bickering can seem insignificant, but when fights keep on resurfacing, your otherwise happy marriage...
After analyzing data on the self-reported levels of sexual activity and happiness of 16,000 people, Dartmouth College economist David Blachflower and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England report that sex "enters so strongly (and) positively in happiness equations" that they estimate increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the amount of happiness generated by getting an additional $50,000 in income for the average American.
"The evidence we see is that money brings some amounts of happiness, but not as much as what economists might have thought," says Blanchflower. "We had to look to psychologists and realize that other things really matter."
Rich Man, Poor Man: What's the Difference?
Their paper, "Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study," recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, essentially puts an estimated dollar amount on the happiness level resulting from sex and its trappings.
Despite popular opinion, they find that having more money doesn't mean you get more sex; there's no difference between the frequency of sex and income level. But they do find sex seems to have a greater effect on happiness levels in highly educated -- and presumingly wealthier -- people than on those with lower educational status.
Overall, the happiest folks are those getting the most sex -- married people, who report 30% more between-the-sheets action than single folks. In fact, the economists calculate that a lasting marriage equates to happiness generated by getting an extra $100,000 each year. Divorce, meanwhile, translates to a happiness depletion of $66,000 annually.
Whether that hefty happiness income boost is the result of marital bliss or more sex is up for debate. But their "econometric" calculations confirm what psychologists have long known: People who consider themselves happy are usually richer in sexual activity.
"Many studies confirm that people who are depressed have less sex," says psychologist and sex therapist Robert Hatfield, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati and a spokesman for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. "Conversely, if you're not depressed -- 'happy,' as some might say -- you're more likely to have more frequent sex."
Does sex lead to happiness, or are happy people just more likely to lead each other to the bedroom? That's still under investigation, but there is evidence that psyche and sex feed off each other.
SOURCES: Blachflower, D. "Money, Sex and Happiness, An Empirical Study," May 2000. David G. Blachflower, PhD, Bruce V. Raunder professor of economics, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. Robert Hatfield, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, University of Cincinnati; and certified sex therapist; spokesman, Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.