October 10, 2022 - 7:00am

Liberals, especially liberal women, are significantly less likely to be happy with their lives and satisfied with their “mental health”, compared to their conservative peers aged from 18-55. 

This is the big takeaway from the 2022 American Family Survey, a striking new poll from YouGov and the Deseret News, which found that liberals are about 15 percentage points less likely to be “completely satisfied” with their lives.

The survey goes on to find that liberals are about 18 percentage points less likely to be “completely satisfied” with their “mental health” than conservatives. But the problem appears to be especially acute for liberal women, who register the lowest levels of satisfaction with their lives and mental health. Indeed, only 15% of liberal women in the age group surveyed are “completely satisfied” with their lives, compared to 31% of conservative women; likewise, only 15% of liberal women are “completely satisfied” with their mental health, compared to 36% of conservative women.

Two family factors have a lot to do with this ideological gap: marital status and family satisfaction. Given that conservatives aged 18-55 are about 20 percentage points more likely to be married, as well as 18 percentage points more likely to be satisfied with their families, the lesson here is obvious. Marriage and family are strongly linked to happiness and to personal mental health in particular. 

On the family front, conservative Americans (not politicians, admittedly) have a major advantage, in large part because they are more likely to embrace the family-first values and virtues that steer them towards wedlock and fulfilling family lives. This appears to be especially true here for conservative women, who report the highest levels of satisfaction with their family lives.

The problem facing liberals, then, is that too many of them have embraced the false narrative that the path to happiness runs counter to marriage and family life, not towards it. They think independence, freedom and work will make them happy, which is why significant portions of the popular media are filled these days with stories celebrating divorce and singleness. A recent story by Molly Smith in Bloomberg, for instance, falsely claimed that “Women Who Stay Single and Don’t Have Kids Are Getting Richer” (in reality, married mothers are richest) and spotlighted childless, single women who claim personal happiness: in the words of one, “I love my life and feel very fulfilled.” 

The challenge for progressives is to understand and appreciate that these women are outliers. The secret to happiness, for most men and women, involves marriage and a life based around the family. The challenge for conservatives, of course, is to find new cultural platforms to communicate the value of marriage and family life to a young adult audience fleeing from the very way of life most likely to increase their odds of happiness.

Brad Wilcox is Future of Freedom Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of the book Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families and Save Civilization, which published in February 2024 by HarperCollins.