This may be the most consequential decision of a person’s life. The billionaire investor Warren Buffett certainly thinks so. He calls whom you marry “the most important decision that you make.”
And yet people have rarely turned to science for help with this all-important decision. Truth be told, science has had little help to offer. Scholars of relationship science have been trying to find answers. But it has proven difficult and expensive to recruit large samples of couples. The studies in this field tended to rely on tiny samples, and different studies often showed conflicting results. In 2007, the distinguished scholar Harry Reis of the University of Rochester compared the field of relationship science to an adolescent: “sprawling, at times unruly, and perhaps more mysterious than we might wish.”
But a few years ago, a young, energetic, uber-curious, and brilliant scientist, Samantha Joel, aimed to change that. Joel, like so many in her field, was interested in what predicts successful relationships. But she had a noticeably different approach from others. Joel did not merely recruit a new, tiny sample of couples. Instead, she joined together data from other, already-existing studies. Joel reasoned that, if she could merge data from the existing small studies, she could have a large dataset—and have enough data to reliably find what predicts relationship success and what does not.