A number of studies have shown that married people (particularly men) tend to live longer, healthier lives than their single counterparts. However, is it just being married that confers this benefit, or is it the quality of the relationship that is important?
A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology performed by researchers at the University of Missouri found that those who reported that they were in a happy marriage lived longer, healthier lives than their less happy married peers. This is not surprising, since the lower levels of stress, higher combined incomes and emotional support that a happy marriage provides are all elements that contribute to better health.
The press release issued for the study, “The Longitudinal Associations between Marital Happiness, Problems, and Self-Rated Health,” said that “Research shows that married people have better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers and are less likely to develop chronic conditions than their widowed or divorced counterparts.” However, this statement was inaccurate. According to the study’s lead researcher Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies, only married couples were included in the study, so it was not a study that compared the health of married people as opposed to that of single people, but rather the effect of marital happiness on health.
Proulx said, “We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age. Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer,” she added, “but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress.”
Although studies show that married couples are slightly healthier than cohabiting couples, being in a long-term stable relationship seems to be the key to health and longevity. Men, in particular, benefit from this. A study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that unmarried men living alone had a 66% higher risk of a coronary event than those who were cohabiting. In addition, married men drink significantly less than men who are single. Data taken from almost 200,000 people in a national health survey shows that the risk of mortality for men in a cohabiting relationship drops by 80%, whereas the drop for women is only 59%. In addition, married women tend to drink more than when they were single. Experts believe this could be due to the fact that couples tend to adjust their drinking to equal their partner’s level, so men drink less and women drink more when cohabiting.
So although being happily married or in a happy long-term relationship is decidedly beneficial for health and longevity, remember that being in a bad marriage can be detrimental to health. So, not to worry, if you are single and have just not yet found the right person, you are still likely to be healthier than someone in an unhappy relationship.