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Data Error Undermines Book's Claims

Paul Dolan's book Happy Ever After was everywhere on the internet last week with its startling idea that women can have a happier life by never marrying. However, the research behind the book was based on publicly-available data that could be checked. The pull quote from Dolan that went viral was “Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: f***ing miserable.” Economist Gray Kimbrough wondered how that question was actually presented, and looked up the data.

The problem? That finding is the result of a grievous misunderstanding on Dolan’s part of how the American Time Use Survey works. The people conducting the survey didn’t ask married people how happy they were, shoo their spouses out of the room, and then ask again. Dolan had misinterpreted one of the categories in the survey, “spouse absent,” which refers to married people whose partner is no longer living in their household, as meaning the spouse stepped out of the room.

People whose spouse is no longer living in the household comprise a very particular category, and the reasons behind the absence may point to why the interviewee is miserable. Kimbrough posted his findings about the "absent spouse" question and some of Dolan's other conclusions in a Twitter thread. Dolan says that changes will be made to the book. However, it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle, or change the ideas in printed books that have already been sold. Read more on the story at Vox. 


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