Research shows that marriage contributes to good health, and people who are healthier tend to live longer. Married men and women are less likely to have drinking and mental health problems. They also tend to eat more healthfully and exercise more frequently. What is it about marriage that leads to a longer, healthier life? Is marriage a means to achieving better health?
Some researchers suggest that the health benefits of marriage are stronger for men than women. One study found that married men live longer compared to never-married men, divorced men, and widowed men. The marriage benefit, though, was not as substantial for women in this study.
The reason for this difference is not entirely clear, but some researchers think it is partly because single men are more likely than single women to engage in risky behavior—fast driving and binge drinking, for example. Also, women are more likely than men to have a strong social network, whether or not they are married, and social support is associated with better health and a longer life.
The reason that married people tend to be healthier and live longer than unmarried people is complex and not fully understood. Some researchers point to the “marriage protection hypothesis." This attributes the health benefits of marriage to the social, psychological, economic, and environmental effects of marriage.
Others think that healthy people are simply more likely to get married. But, most researchers fall somewhere in between: they believe that, while it is true that healthy people may be more likely to get married, marriage itself is associated with certain health benefits that can increase your chances of living a long, healthy life.
Just living with someone can be good for your health. People who live with a spouse—or anyone else, for that matter—have a better chance of getting care in times of illness. Also, spouses tend to promote healthy behaviors and discourage unhealthy ones. This makes married people more likely to eat healthfully and exercise, and less likely to smoke and drink excessively.
Another reason married men and women tend to live longer has to do with money. Married couples tend to have higher incomes, save more, and get more Social Security when they retire than unmarried individuals. Studies have shown that wealthier people have more access to healthcare and information, and are less likely to smoke, drink, eat poorly, and be sedentary.
So, does just being married mean you will be healthier and live longer? Studies say that it depends on whether your marriage is good or bad. Research has shown that while a good marriage may offer health benefits, a bad marriage can actually hurt your health.
One study found that staying in a bad marriage was associated with increased blood pressure, while a good marriage was associated with decreased blood pressure. Another study found that, compared to women who reported satisfying marriages, women who were dissatisfied with their marriages were more likely to develop cardiovascular risk factors over time. These studies indicate that marital stress and dissatisfaction can put you at risk for health problems.
If you are married or are planning on becoming married, the best advice is to choose wisely when deciding who you want to spend your life with and work hard to make your marriage a strong one. If you are not married, you can still practice good health habits. Eat well, get plenty of exercise, keep tabs on your health, and build a strong, supportive social network.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychological Association
Mental Health Canada
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Marriage and men's health. Harvard Medical School website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2010/July/marriage-and-mens-health. Published July 2010. Accessed April 4, 2014.
US Department of Health and Human Services. The effects of marriage on health: a synthesis of recent research evidence. Assistance Secretary for Planning and Evaluation website. Available at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/marriageonhealth/rb.htm. Published June 2007. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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