Just who are the happiest wives in America?
According to a new report by the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, "When Baby Makes Three," the surprising answer is: women who attend church at least weekly with their husband and have four or more children.
Women like Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Santorum, in other words. This insight is embedded in a larger report whose overall purpose is to find out the factors that lead to happy and successful married families -- particularly using data from "next generation marriages," among those currently 18 to 46 years old.
Children are known to stress marital happiness, on average, but what helps some couples resist the stress and build enduring and happy married families?
Among the report's findings, some seem obvious: Married parents do better if they spend time with each other, spend time with their children, are generous in helping out one another and have a satisfying sex life.
But pro-child attitudes are also very important. Agreeing that raising children is "one of life's greatest joys" doubles the likelihood that these younger married women report being very happily married.
"We found that pronatalistic attitude is one of the top five predictors of marital happiness" for both wives and for husbands, the authors state.
Religious commitment also helps to build a happy marriage for women. Here, actions speak even louder than words. Only when husbands and wives both attend church regularly are wives more likely to be very happily married.
Sixty-four percent of wives report being very happy when they and their husbands attend church (or synagogue or temple) regularly, compared to about 50 percent of wives in a marriage where only one spouse goes to church (or neither spouse does). Wives in marriages where both spouses go to church regularly are also only about one-third as likely to report their marriage is at risk of divorce. (Husbands in these marriages are only one-quarter as likely to report thinking of divorce).
Seventy-seven percent of wives in marriage where both husband and wife believe "God is at the center of my marriage" report being very happy, and just 1 percent of such wives report feeling their marriages may end in divorce.
The most surprising finding in this new report is that, on average, the happiest marriages among the next generation are those who have no children and those who have four or more children. When the faith factor is added into the equation, it becomes no contest: 59 percent of wives with four or more children who attend religious services regularly are very happily married, compared to just 38 percent of religious wives with no children, 30 percent of childless, less religious wives, and about 20 percent of married mothers who do not attend church regularly.
Why are these wives so happy? Is it just an illusion? The authors of the report say that, in part, religious practice and beliefs make men better husbands.
The Survey of Marital Generosity indicates that religious husbands with four or more children "are more likely to engage in regular acts of generosity -- such as making coffee in the morning for their wives or frequently expressing affection -- and to spend more quality time with their spouses compared to other husbands."
Of course, religious wives with large families aren't the only happy wives (Michelle and Barack Obama seem to be doing fine with more typical sporadic church attendance and two kids!).
But, ladies, if you want a good family man, willing to sacrifice his time and energy for you and his family, to express affection and to appreciate all you do for him and your children -- now you know where to look.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.