Changes in the Well-Being of Same-Sex Couples Following the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in England and Wales

Daniele Vignoli, University of Florence
Diederik Boertien, Centre d''Estudis Demográfics

In this paper, we address the question to what extent the subjective well-being of same-sex couples changed following the legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales in March 2014. We employ data from the Annual Population Survey to examine changes in several aspects of well-being during the period before and after legalization. The total period covered by the analysis spans from April 2011 to September 2016 and provides information on ~530,000 individuals including ~4600 individuals living in a same-sex couple. The analysis reveals substantial increases in well-being among same-sex couples following legalization. In particular, reported levels of happiness increased and levels of anxiety decreased in the 12 months following legalization, compared to the 12 months before legalization. Additional analysis hints at a ‘marital well-being premium’ among same-sex couples, suggesting that the legalization could have influenced the well-being of same-sex couples who married in particular.

Changesin the well-being of same-sex couples following the legalization of same-sex marriagein England and Wales

Overthe last decades, families have undergone remarkable changes produced by increasingrates of divorce, cohabitation, unwed motherhood, the (re) emergence of stepfamilies and working mothers, a sharp rise in the number of single personhouseholds or in living-apart-together arrangements at older ages. Within theseglobal trends, the new visibility of same sex relationships has attractedincreasing attention among family scholars (e.g., Cortina and Festy 2014;Flores et al. 2016; Gamson and Moon 2004; Gates 2011, 2012; Ghazianiet al. 2016; Moore and Stambolis-Ruhstorfer 2013).

InJuly 2013, the parliament of the United Kingdom decided to legalize marriagefor same-sex couples in England and Wales. The law came into force the 13th ofMarch 2014 and the first same-sex marriages were registered on March 29th2014. England and Wales therewith followed a trend that has been spreadingacross countries since its introduction in 2001 in the Netherlands. Access tomarriage can be important for individuals’ well-being as marriage is positivelyassociated with a wide variety of outcomes including health, income, and wealth(e.g., Kamp Dush and Amato 2005; Musick and Bumpass 2012; Nock 1995; Ross andVan Willigen 1997). The availability of marriage as an option might thereforehave increased the well-being of same-sex couples. However, no study so far (toour knowledge) has documented whether this is indeed the case. We aim to fillthis gap in the literature by answering the question: Has the well-being ofsame-sex couples increased in England and Wales after the introduction ofsame-sex marriage in 2014?

Toanswer this question, we employ data from the Annual Population Surveyscovering the period April 2011 to September 2016. During this period, around530,000 individuals were interviewed of which around 4,600 lived in a same-sexcouple. Four variables have been introduced into the APS to monitor thewell-being of the population. Respondents were asked to rate on a scale from 1to 10:  1) How anxious they were yesterday; 2) How happy they felt yesterday;3) How worthwhile things done in life are felt to be; 4) How satisfied they arewith their life. Each of these components of well-being will be looked atseparately, but they are also combined in an index to create a single indicatorof well-being (α = 0.72). During the survey period considered, the AnnualPopulation Survey recorded information on household composition where living ina same-sex couple was one possible category.

PreliminaryResults

Figure1 displays the development of overall well-being across the whole period forwhich data was available. 95% confidence intervals are added for individualsliving as a same-sex couple. It can be observed that well-being has beensteadily increasing for individuals living in different-sex couples.Individuals in same-sex couples, in contrast, reported decreasing well-being inthe period 2011-2013. Their well-being, however, experienced considerableincreases from 2014 onward; the year same-sex marriage was legalized.

Figure 1.Average well-being by sex-composition of couple (with 95% CI’s)

Annual Population Survey 2011-2016; N =530,000

Wezoom in on the period just before and after the legalization of marriage forsame-sex couples. Table 1 reports OLS regressions explaining overall well-being,as well as results for the sub-components used for the overall measure ofwell-being, depending on the sex-composition of the couple and time period.Well-being of different groups is compared between the 12 months beforelegalization (April 2013-March 2014) and the 12 months after legalization(April 2014-March 2015).

Itcan be observed that the overall well-being of same-sex couples increasedsignificantly in the period following legalization. This is also observed oncelooking at the sub-components happiness, anxiety, and whether things areworthwhile doing in life. Further analysis of the paper will investigate therobustness of these results to different cut-offs regarding the time periodsconsidered and the inclusion of more covariates. We also investigate whether a “maritalwell-being premium” can be observed for same-sex couples.

Table 1.OLS Regressions Explaining Well-being According to Sex-Composition of Couplesin the 12 months before and After Legalization

 

Happiness

Anxiety

 

Satisfaction

Worthwile

Overall

 

Coef.

SE

Coef.

SE

Coef.

SE

Coef.

SE

Coef.

SE

Post-legalization

0.08**

0.01

-0.07**

0.02

0.11**

0.01

0.08**

0.01

0.08**

0.01

(ref. pre-legalization)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In same-sex couple

-0.30**

0.09

0.62**

0.11

-0.09

0.07

-0.19*

0.09

-0.31**

0.07

(ref. opposite-sex)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same-sex couple,

post-legalization (interaction)

0.33**

0.12

-0.41*

0.16

0.13

0.09

0.24*

0.10

0.28**

0.09

Age

0.01**

0.00

-0.00**

0.00

0.00**

0.00

0.01**

0.00

0.00**

0.00

Female

0.09**

0.01

0.26**

0.02

0.10

0.01

0.23**

0.01

0.04**

0.01

Constant

7.05**

0.03

2.51**

0.04

7.44**

0.02

7.38**

0.02

4.85**

0.02

Sample weights included, robust standarderrors, N = 201,003; 1,772 same-sex. Pre-Legalization period is April2013-March 2014; Post-Legalization period is April 2014-March 2015. **p<0.01 * p<0.05 † p<0.10.

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Presented in Session 1108: Families and Households