Health and marriage: The times they are a changin'

August 11, 2008,

The health of people who never marry is improving, narrowing the gap with their wedded counterparts, according to new research that suggests the practice of encouraging marriage to promote health may be misguided.

Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University and lead researcher on the project, said sociologists since the 1970s have emphasized that marriage benefits health more so for men than for women.

"Married people are still healthier than unmarried people," Liu said, "but the gap between the married and never-married is closing, especially for men."

The findings of Liu and fellow researcher Debra Umberson of the University of Texas at Austin will appear in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The article is called "The Times They Are a Changin': Marital Status and Health Differentials from 1972 to 2003."

The researchers analyzed National Health Interview Survey data from that period and found that while the self-reported health of married people is still better than that of the never-married, the gap has closed considerably.

The trend is due almost exclusively to a marked improvement in the self-reported health of never-married men. Liu said that may be partly because never-married men have greater access to social resources and support that historically were found in a spouse.

Further, the research shows that the health status of the never-married has improved for all race and gender groups examined: men, women, blacks and whites. (The health of married women also improved, while the health of married men remained stable.)

"Politicians and scholars continue to debate the value of marriage for Americans," the researchers write in the study, "with some going so far as to establish social programs and policies to encourage marriage among those socials groups less inclined to marry, particularly the poor and minorities."

But the research findings "highlight the complexity of this issue" and suggest that "encouraging marriage in order to promote health may be misguided."

In contrast, the self-reported health for the widowed, divorced and separated worsened from 1972 to 2003 relative to their married peers. This held true for both men and women, although the widening gaps between the married and the previously married groups are more pronounced for women than for men.

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Is wedded bliss the secret to good health?

Related Stories

Is wedded bliss the secret to good health?

February 15, 2018
For years, it's seemed like the jury was officially out on marriage being good for your health. But could the changing social landscape mean that's no longer the case?

Predictors for infidelity and divorce highlighted in new research

February 12, 2018
As Valentine's Day approaches, it's reassuring to know many of us are equipped with the basic psychological instincts to have a successful intimate relationship that lasts.

Scientists find a few surprises in their study of love

February 14, 2018
Love's warm squishiness seems a thing far removed from the cold, hard reality of science. Yet the two do meet, whether in lab tests for surging hormones or in austere chambers where MRI scanners noisily thunk and peer into ...

The connection between a healthy marriage and a healthy heart

February 8, 2018
For many, marriage signals the beginning of an entwined and, at times, tangled relationship. Spouses often play the role of friend, co-parent, caregiver, financial partner and emotional support system for their significant ...

Female genital mutilation continues as change comes slowly

February 6, 2018
The 25-year-old Kedija had her external genitalia removed and her vagina sewn up when she was just seven days old. She has faced a lifetime of pain.

Multiple health implications of women's early marriage go beyond early childbearing

December 11, 2017
A new study of four South Asian countries reveals complex associations between early marriage and women's education, health and nutrition that go beyond the impacts of early childbearing. These health implications—which ...

Recommended for you

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

Being a single dad can shorten your life: study

February 15, 2018
The risk of dying prematurely more than doubles for single fathers compared to single mothers or paired-up dads, according to a study of Canadian families published Thursday.

Keeping an eye on the entire ageing process

February 15, 2018
Medical researchers often only focus on a single disease. As older people often suffer from multiple diseases at the same time, however, we need to rethink this approach, writes Ralph Müller.

Study suggests possible link between highly processed foods and cancer

February 14, 2018
A study published by The BMJ today reports a possible association between intake of highly processed ("ultra-processed") food in the diet and cancer.

Gov't says health costs to keep growing faster than economy

February 14, 2018
U.S. health care spending will keep growing faster than the overall economy in the foreseeable future, squeezing public insurance programs and employers who provide coverage, the government said Wednesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.