Why we think that our own marriages are awesome—and that everyone else’s suck

You wish you were this happy.
You wish you were this happy.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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The state of marriage in America is… confused.

According to the American Family Survey, a nationwide poll of 3,000 people conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, many of us married folk report that our marriages are as strong, or even stronger, than they were two years ago. But other people’s marriages? A train wreck. Those poor souls:

“Effectively, respondents report relatively high levels of confidence in the strength of their own marriages, but do not extend the same confidence to marriages in general,” the report says.

The authors argue that this may be down to ”familiarity bias”, or our inclination to think things close to home are great, but distant things are not so great. This is the same tendency that leads us to think that Congress is corrupt and should be disbanded but our local Congressperson is great and gets the job done.

The report doesn’t say it, but it might also reflect overconfidence bias, or our profound tendency to think we are better than we really are. Surveys show this: in one, 84% of Frenchmen considered themselves above-average lovers, and in another, 93% of American students said they were above-average drivers.

The same innate biases appear to apply to family life beyond marriage. According to the American Family Survey, respondents believe their own family is doing as well as or better than two years ago, while everyone else’s is falling apart:

One issue seems to be how lax all those other parents are. When asked to pick the most important issues facing parents today, 53% of respondents said it was “parents not disciplining their children sufficiently.”

My guess, based on the previous results—and the looks I get in the supermarket when my kids are melting down—is that people think the amount of discipline they give their own children is just right. It’s everyone else who has a problem.