I read an article by Washington Post that reminded me of the need to always use the critical thinking skills used in business school. Do you agree with the following?

People Who Marry Young are Happier, But Those Who Marry Later Earn More

[B]eing married makes you happier than you’d otherwise be, but it does so presumably because it involves spending a lot of your time with someone whom you love and who’s a good match for you.
– Dylan Matthews, Washington Post

The article offered evidential data, which can be very convincing, and made two conclusions.

  1. People who marry are happier.
  2. Those who marry later earn more.

Even though Matthews posted lots of statistics, polls, earning data and gender differentiation, he is making this assertion based on a lot of potentially flawed assumptions. Right off the bat, perhaps the people who contributed to the statistics were more in favor of his thesis.

Regardless of the issue at hand, there’s a point here. There is a lot of information out there, some accurate and some fallacious. What I will share is a strategy to effectively dissect and integrate content.

The goal is not refute, but to question and connect with reason. Let’s consider Matthew’s argument that those who marry are happier.

wedding kiss

Causality

A causal argument asserts that a certain factor caused a certain effect. In other words, X caused Y to happen. X → Y

His study is supported with statistics that show that people are more likely to be happy when married. Due to this higher level of happiness, Matthew asserts that if you marry (X), you become happier (Y). Therefore, marriage causes happiness.

However, this conclusion relies on a number of assumptions:

  • That it was not happiness (Y) that caused marriage (X).
  • No other elements caused happiness (Y), such as factors A, B, C and so forth.
  • And that marriage (X) and happiness (Y) were not coincidences when the conclusion was made.

In order for Matthew’s casual conclusion that X → Y to be valid, none of the aforementioned assumptions can come into play. Let’s examine these potential assumptions deeper.

beach wedding ceremony photo

On a side note, this reminds me of the timeless dispute of which came first – the chicken (X) or the egg (Y)?

Reversed Causality

While it might be true that marriage (X) causes happiness (Y), it could also very well be true that happiness (Y) causes marriage (X). I know a lot of people who were happy together, so they got married. In fact, happiness as a couple bolsters the chance of marriage!

Matthew’s Argument:
Marriage (X) → Happiness (Y)

Reversed Causality:
Happiness (Y) → Marriage (X)

Viewed in this light, X can very well be the cause of Y. Which is true?

wedding reception photo

Alternative Explanation

We can also consider the fact that it was not marriage (X) that caused happiness (Y), it was A, B or C. For example, “Money does not cause happiness; in fact, according to some made up surveys by me, financial security causes happiness, which correlates strongly with marriage.”

In this instance, marriage is not really part of the equation. Whether you are married or not, it could be that couples with money that are most happy. Marriage was just a coincidence.

Matthew’s Argument:
Marriage (X) → Happiness (Y)

Alternative Explanation:
Financial Security (A) → Happiness (Y)

urban wedding photo

Coincidence

There is the possibility that marriage (X) and happiness (Y) do not have a direct relationship. The correlation could be a coincidence. I’ll give you a funny example below on a coincidental event.

During Spring Break (X), people like to take their clothes off (Y).

Having been a student for many years, I have never felt the urge to take my clothes off (nor many others I’m sure) during Spring Break. The connection that people like to take their clothes off during Spring Break could be a coincidence.

A number of alternative explanations for people wanting to take their clothes off include

  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • hot weather
  • peer pressure
  • mob mentality
  • … and so on

Spring Break itself was not a factor and just a coincidence that all of the aforementioned factors occurred during this period.

Using this understanding, happiness levels could have been about the same before and after marriage. Therefore, the correlation between the cause and effect is happenstance.

Matthew’s Argument:
Marriage (X) → Happiness (Y)

Coincidence:
Marriage (A) ⇅ Happiness (Y)

wedding couple photo

Conclusion

My goal is not to prove or disprove the association between marriage and happiness. My goal is to show you that not everything is always what they seem, even though this inference was convincingly backed by lots of evidence.

In order to be successful in business, especially marketing for your business, you have to be meta cognitive. Analyze your learning.

Therefore, the next time you attend a workshop, read a book, watch a seminar or even make conclusions about your own business, use the checklist above.

I’m not trying to turn you into a cynic. Constructive analyzing allows you to view things in a critical light that breaks the barriers of smoke and mirrors of reverse causality, coincidence and alternative explanations. So, does marriage cause happiness?

Have a wonderful day,

Lawrence Chan

P.S. I don’t know what is up with these guys, but I wish I had a minion as a friend.

minions