It is sometimes fashionable to believe that marriage has rather disastrous effects on the mental and emotional state of being of the partners involved. Now, however, there could be a scientific basis for those beliefs.

In the wake of recent campaigns, in the U.S., to promote the marital state, a study published online, in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, indicates married couples might, initially, have better well-being but their happiness thereafter follows a downward trajectory.

The study titled Reexamining the Case for Marriage: Union Formation and Changes in Well-being is based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), a sample survey focusing on family structure, processes and relationships.

The married fared better in health than co-habitors, but the opposite was true of happiness and self-esteem, wrote Kelly Musick of Cornell University, the lead author of the study.

The report compares the happiness quotients of wedded couples, those who live together without being married and those who are single, in terms of social life, bonding with families and friends. According to the findings, marriage does not necessarily expand one's social circles.

We found no evidence that marriage and cohabitation provide benefits over being single in the realm of social ties; indeed, entering into a union reduced contact with parents and social evenings with friends, Musick said. The researchers also felt marriage was undergoing a process of deinstitutionalization.

Behaviors that were once normatively seen as unique to marriage are now much less so, including sexual relationships, co-residence, and childbearing, Musick added.

The researchers noted that recent campaigns to promote marriage in the U.S. were based on the assumption marriage will improve the well-being of individuals. However, the researchers noted that factors linking marriage to well-being, including social roles, social support and commitment, vary for each individual.

We are certainly not saying that marriage is irrelevant for individual wellbeing. What we have found is simply that, once individual differences are taken into account, it is far from a blanket prescription for individual well-being, Musick concluded.