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The couple that eats together …

Date: May 14, 2019

Marriage Week UK launches today under the banner of a ‘recipe for a happy marriage‘.

And so we thought we’d try and find some evidence to see whether it wasn’t just the recipe that made a marriage but the entire meal.

With my colleague Professor Steve McKay at the University of Lincoln, we delved into the UK Time Use Survey conducted in 2014 and 2015.

More than 7,600 people in 4,000 households were asked to record what they were doing throughout one weekday and one weekend day, putting the detail into ten minute slots. From this we gathered 46,000 data points from those who lived together as a couple.

Here’s what we found (you can download our paper here):

Married couples eat together slightly more often than cohabiting couples.

  • 35% of married couples ate together most or all of the time, whereas 22% ate together rarely or never
  • 22% of cohabiting couples ate together most or all of the time, whereas 27% ate together rarely or never

Married couples who eat together are 15% more likely to report maximum happiness with their relationship.

  • 67% of the married couples who ate together said were very happy with their relationship, compared to 58% of the married couples who did not eat together.
  • 57% of couples who were the most unhappy ate together, compared to 47% of those who were slightly less unhappy, then 38%, 51%, 55%, 59% and finally 66% of those who were most happy. So it’s not just the happiest who are most likely to eat together but also the unhappiest. Those least likely to eat together are the moderately unhappy. This fits some of our other findings that show those who are moderately unhappy tend to have the worst outcomes.

Couples who eat together are 19% more likely to enjoy their meal.

  • 74% of couples who ate together enjoyed their meal a lot, compared to 62% of couples who ate separately.
  • 36% of those who enjoyed their meal least ate together, rising to 69% of those who enjoyed their meal most

Couples who use their phone at meal times are 8% less likely to enjoy their meal.

  • 69% of those who did not use their phone enjoyed their meal a lot, compared to 64% of those who did use their phone.
  • Couples use their phone only 14% of the time during meals, with the most use by those who only moderately enjoy their meals.

123 Happy eater relationship124 Happy eater meal

Overall, these findings show a clear positive link between eating together as a couple, enjoying the meal, and having a happy relationship. Of course this is a cross-sectional snapshot so we have to be cautious about cause and effect. It could be either that happy couples enjoy eating together or that eating together helps make couples happy.

However the questions about enjoyment of the meal do suggest a direction of travel. It seems fairly implausible that couples eat together because they enjoy their meals. It seems a lot more plausible that couples enjoy their meals because they have shared it together. It’s only a small step from here to suggest that happiness might also be the consequence of eating together.

So for this Marriage Week at least, if you want a happy relationship and want to enjoy your meals more, then eat together as a couple and put that phone down!

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