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Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Matters for the Subjective Well-being of Individuals in Same-Sex Unions


We investigate whether the subjective well-being of individuals in same-sex unions improved following the legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales in March 2014. We employ repeated cross-sectional data from the 2011–2016 Annual Population Surveys on 476,411 persons, including 4,112 individuals in coresidential same-sex relationships. The analysis reveals increases in subjective well-being for individuals in same-sex relationships following legalization. Additional analysis documents higher subjective well-being for individuals in married same-sex couples compared with individuals who are in a civil partnership or an informal cohabiting same-sex union. However, the subjective well-being of individuals from same-sex couples increased after legalization among all subgroups considered, including those who cohabited informally. This result hints at a general reduction in structural stigma as an important mechanism behind the improved well-being of individuals in same-sex unions.

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  1. Given the presence of universal public health care in Britain, access to health care through a married partner’s employment is likely to be a less relevant mechanism to explain well-being disparities compared with other countries, such as the United States (Gonzales and Blewett 2014).

  2. These data are complemented by annual boost samples. For more information, see

  3. Dropping cases without information on subjective well-being leads to the exclusion of 48 % of the sample, mainly children and respondents not present at the time of interview for whom proxy respondents provided information. Well-being questions were not put to proxy respondents. Sample weights designed for nonresponse on well-being measures are included. We dropped 0.3 % of cases because of missing household-level information. Less than 0.1 % of individuals were excluded because merging household to individual data based on observable characteristics (given the absence of personal identification numbers in the publicly available data) led to unequivocal matches in 99.9 % of cases only (see also footnote 6).

  4. The process leading up to legalization was very similar for England and Wales (Eekelaar 2014), and the well-being of sexual minorities is often studied for both countries jointly (e.g., King et al. 2003). There are therefore no a priori expectations regarding differences across countries in results. Nonetheless, we excluded the 10 % of respondents living in Wales from the analysis in robustness checks (online appendix C); the results remained unchanged.

  5. Listwise case deletion excludes 1.7 % of the original sample. Using multiple imputation renders practically identical results (online appendix D).

  6. Household and personal identification numbers in the APS are available only under a special license agreement to U.K.-based researchers.

  7. Robustness checks based on face-to-face interviews alone displayed very similar substantial results, albeit with lower levels of precision.

  8. Additional tests show that the difference between individuals in a marriage and those in a civil partnership is statistically significant (p = .03).


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We would like to thank attendants at the 2018 Population Association of America annual meeting (Denver) and the 2018 European Population Conference (Brussels) for their insights and comments. Diederik Boertien acknowledges research funding from the Beatriu de Pinos program of the Generalitat de Catalunya (2016-BP-00121), the EQUALIZE project (ERC-2014-STG-grant agreement No 637768), and the GLOBFAM project (RTI2018-096730-B-I00).

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Boertien, D., Vignoli, D. Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Matters for the Subjective Well-being of Individuals in Same-Sex Unions. Demography 56, 2109–2121 (2019).

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  • Subjective well-being
  • Same-sex couples
  • Marriage
  • Structural stigma