Marriage and Better Health

Marriage Provides Better Health

There is a growing body of research which suggests "Not being married can be hazardous to your health".

  • Compared to married people, the nonmarried…have higher rates of mortality than the married: about 50 percent higher among women and 250 percent higher among men." (1)
  • Unmarried (including divorced, widowed, and single) people are far more likely to die from all causes, includingcoronary heart diesease, stroke, penumonia, many kinds of cancer, cirrhoises of the liver, automobile accidents, murder and suicides - all leading causes of death
  • The biggest gap between married and unmarried occurs in early middle age among adults thirty-five to forty-four years old.
  • Being unmarried can actually be a greater risk to one's life than having heart disease or cancer. For example, having heart disease shortens the average man's life span by slightly less than six years. But being unmarried chops almost ten years off a man's life.
  • Being unmarried is one of the greatest risk that people voluntarily subject themselves to." (2)
  • When it comes to surviving cancer, being married can knowck ten years off your age…A recent study of outcomes for hospitalized patients found that married surgical patients are far less likely to die in the hospital than singles. (3)
  • The risk of beind discharged to a nursing home was 2.5 times greater for unmarried than for married patients, even after taking into account the severity of illness, age, gender, race and diagnosis.
  • Marriage not only preserves life, but it protects health
    • Wives are about 30 percent more likely to rate their health excellent or very good than the same-aged single women were. Husbands showed similar advantages over unmarrked men. Married men and women are also less likely than singles to suffer from long-term chronic illness or disabilities. (4)
    • Marriage is better for survival. Almost nine out of ten married men live to age forty-eight would still be alive at age sixty-five.. By contrast, just six out of every ten never-married men alive at forty eight would make it to sixty five. For married women, nine out of ten alive at age forty-eight would make it to sixty five as compared to about eight out of ten never-married and divorced women.(5)
    • A large body of research confirms the folk wisdom: Married men really do settle down, while men who aren't married voluntarily behave in ways that endanger their own life and health. Take alcohol abuse, for example. Single men drink almost twice as much as married men of the same age.
    • Women also reduce their drinking, smoking and drug use upon marriage. (6)
    • There is even intriguing evidence that social support of the kind marriage provides can actually boost the immune system, making the married less likely to catch even the common cold. (7)
    • As a marriage improves over time, so does the reported health of the husband and the wife. (8)
    • Unlike getting married, merely moving in together did not seem to motivate young men and women to reduce unhealthy behavior. During their twenties, young men and women who lived together showed very high and increasing rates of health-destroying and dangerous behaviors.

Marriage Leads To Greater Happiness And Mental Health

  • Married men and women report less depression, less anxiety and lower levels of other types of psychological distress than do those who are singled, divorced or widowed. (9)
  • One survey of fourteen thousand adults over a ten-year period found that marital status was one of the most important predictors of happiness.When people married, their mental health improved- consistently and substantially. Meanwhile, over the same period, when people separated and divorced, they suffered substantial deterioration in mental and emotional well-being, including increases in depression and declines in reported happiness compared to the married - even after taking into account their subject's menal health at the start of the study.
    • 40 percent of the married said they are very happy with their life in general, compared to just under a quarter of those who were single or who were cohabitating. The separated (15 percent very happy) and the divorced (18 percent very happy) were the least happy groups. The widowed were just about as likely to say they are very happy as singles or co-habitators - 22%.
    • On the other end of the scale, maried people were also about half as likely as singles or cohabitators to say that they are unhappy with their lives.
    • The divorced were two and a half times more likely, and the widowed were almost three times more likely than spouses to confess they are "not too happy".
    • The most miserable were the separated were almost four times more likely than the married to say that they were"not too happy with life".(10)
  • Divorce is especially damaging to women's mental health: divorcing women reported more of an increase in depression, more hostility, more of a decline in self-esteem, less personal growth, and less self-acceptance and environmental mastery than divorced men.
  • The act of getting married actually makes people happier and healthier; conversely, getting a divorce reverses these gains - even when we take into account prior measures of mental and emotional health.(11)
  • Young adults who got married experience sharper drops in levels of both depression and problem drinking than did young adults who stay single. Getting married led to bigger decilnes in problem drinking for women. Getting married reduced dpression for the men, but not for the women. (12)
  • In the short term, cohabitors may gain some (though not nearly all) of the emotional benefits of marriage. But over the long haul, it appears that cohabitors may be no better off than singles.(13)
  • People who are cohabiting are less happy generally than the married and are less satisfied with their sex lives. In America, long-term co-habiting relationships are far rarer than successful marriages.(14)
  • Marriage improves emotional well-being in part by giving people a sense that their life has meaning and purpose. The enhanced sense of meaning and purpose that marriage provides protects each spouse's psychological health. (15)
  • In contemporary folklore, marriage may represent the end of the period of happy, carefree youth. But science tends to confirm Grandma's wisdom: On the whole, man was not meant to live alone, and neither was woman. Marriage makes people happier.

Marriage Leads To Greater Wealth

  • For those raising children
    • Married familes accumulated the most money with a median net worth of $26,000
    • Remaried families were almost as well off - $22,500 as were single-dad families -$22,930
    • At the bottom of the heap were both single mothers and cohabiting couples with a median wealth of just $1,000 (16)
  • For those in their fifties and sixties
    • Married couples had a media net worth of just over $132,000
    • Those divorced had $33,670.
    • Never married had $35,000
    • Those currently separated $7,600 (17)
  • Those on the verge of retirementThe cost of divorce is high. Even if the income is divided fairly between the former spouses, the standard of living of the family drops by about 25 percent. No amount of child support can change the basic math: It costs more to live separtely than together, and the money must come from somewhere
    • Married couples had accumulated $410,000
    • Never married accumulated $167,000
    • Divorced acccumulated $154,000
    • Separated accumulated just under $96,000 (18) Researchers concluded that "Married couples apparently save significantly more than other households, an effect that is not solely related to their higher incomes nor the simple aggregation of the two individuals' wealth." (19)
  • In divorces in one study, the standard of living for wives declined by 27 percent, while the men's standards of living increased by about 10 percent. (20)
  • Marriage is not just an emotional but an economic relationship as well. Married couples not only have far more wealth, but they are far less likely to slip into poverty than are single people (especially single mothers).Black teens in single-parent families were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as black children in intact families
    • In 1996, 11.5 percent of children younger than six who lived in a married-couple family were poor, compared to almost 59 percent of young children living with a single mother. (21)
  • White teens were about three times as likely to be poor if they lived with a single mother. (22)
  • When it comes to building weatlh or avoiding poverty, a stable marriage may be your most important asset.

Source: The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier And Better Off Financially by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, Doubleday, 2000 
1) Catherine E. Ross, John Mirowsky and Kren Goldsteen, "The Impact of the Family on Health: Decade in Review", Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990 1061. 
2) See Bernard I Cohen and I-Sing Lee,"A Catlog of Risks," Health Pysics 36 (1979) 707-722. 
3) James S. Goodwin, William C. Hunt, Charles r. Key and Johnathan M. Samet," The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients", Journal of the American Medical Association 258 (1987): 3125-3130. 
4) Mike Murphy, Karen Glaser, and Emily Grundy, "Marital Status and Long-term Illness in Great Britain" Journal of Marriage and the Family 59 (1997) 156-164. 
5) The percentages living to age sixty five are 88 percent of married men versus 69 percent of widowed men, 65 percent of divorced men and 63 percent of never-married men. For women, 92 percent of forty-eight year-old married women lived to age sixty five, compared to 81 percent of never-married women, 82 percent of divrorced women and 90 percent of widows. 
6) Bachman et al, "Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use" 172-173 
7) See for example Sehldon Cohen, William J. Doyle, David P. Skoner, Bruce S. Rabin, Jack M. Gwatltney, Jr. "Social Ties and Susceptibility to the Common Cold",1940-1944 
Journal of the American meidical Association 277(1997): 
8) K.A. S. Wickrama, Frederick O. Lorenz, Rand D. Conger and Glen H. Elder, Jr. "Marital Quality and Physical Illness: A Latent Growth Curve Analysis" Journal of Marriage and the Family 59 (1997 143-155) 
9) John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross, Social Causes of Psychological Distress (New York: Aldine De Gruyter 1989), 90-92 
10) Tabulations by Linda J. Waite from the General Social Survey 1990-1996. 
11) Nadine F. Marks and James D. Lambert, "Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-being", Journal of Family Issues 19 (1998) 652-686 
12) Allan V. Horwitz, Helene Raskin White, and Sandra Howell-white, "BecomingMarried and Mental Health:A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults" Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (1996) 895-907 
13) Blumenstein and Schwarz, American Couples, 186-187; Clarksberg, Stolzenbergnad Waite "Attidues, Values and Entrance," 609-634 
14) Bumpass and Sweet "Nationial Estimates of Cohabitation" 615-625 
15) Russell P.d. Burton, "Global Integrative Meaning as a Mediating Factor in the Relationship between Social Roles and Psychological Distress" Journal of Health and Social Behavior 39 (1998) 201-215. 
16) Lingxin Hao, "Family Structure", 269-292 
17) Joseph Lupton and James P. Smith "Marriage, Asssets and Savings." In Shoshana Grossbard-Schechtman (ed), Marriage and the Economy. Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press 
18) Ibid, table 5 
19) Ibid, conclusions 
20) Richard R. Peterson, "Re-evaluation," 528-536 
21) Leatha Lamison-white "Poverty the Most Vulnerable: A Proposal to Improve Social Security Insurance for Older Women", the Genetolgist, 34 (1994) 148-149 
22) Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with A Single Parent, 83
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