A 2006 article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that people who have never married have the highest risk of death in the United States. The study also found that compared with married people, people divorced or separated are 27% more likely to die, and people who have never married 58% more likely to die.
But what about couples who just live together. They cohabitate and seem to be just like married couples, but they aren’t married. That is certainly an increasingly common experience in the United States and worldwide. A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family addressed this issue.
The study found that divorced, widowed and never-married white men had higher mortality rates than cohabiting white men, and never-married black men had higher mortality rates than cohabiting black men. In contrast, the mortality rates of non-married white and black women were not different from those of their cohabiting counterparts. Interestingly, the results also revealed that mortality rates of married white men and women were lower than their cohabiting counterparts and that these mortality differences tended to decrease with age. Married black men or women did not live significantly longer than their cohabiting counterparts. So gender and race do play a role, but in general, marriage increases longevity.
Additional studies have also found that married couples experience lower rates of heart disease, cancers, Alzheimer’s and depression and married people live longer if they get these diseases. All this does seem to say there is a marriage advantage.
Staying married seems to be good for your health. A 2009 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior tracked nearly 9,000 men and women in their 50s and 60s. The researchers found that when married couples became single again by either divorce or death of a spouse, their physical health declined and they never fully recovered. In fact, they were 20% more likely to develop a chronic health issue like heart disease and diabetes than those still married to their first wife or husband by middle age. The divorced or widowed individuals also had more problems going up and down stairs or walking longer and in general aged less gracefully.
What happens if those widowed or divorced individuals remarry? The study above seemed to suggest that healed their increased risk of depression as much as staying continuously married, but the remarried continued to experience 12% more chronic disease and 19% more mobility problems.
This brings me to the subject of whether or not to get a divorce. There is a down side to remaining in a hostile, negative marriage. An article in JAMA Psychiatry proved that couples in these types of hostile marriages suffer emotionally and physically. Their immune systems become suppressed just as in any chronically stressful experience. It becomes the drip-drip of a stress torture test and that isn’t healthy or happy. The more hostile the relationship, the greater the impact on health.
So, what have we learned about the health benefits of marriage?
Here’s my advice. From a physical and emotional perspective, you are best off being happily married. No question about it. If you are unhappily married, try to work it out. If you either can’t or won’t work it out, it’s better to get out. But in order to not get to that point, don’t go for the jugular; don’t punch below the belt. Arguments are best recovered from if there is civility; some element of touch, some words of endearment rather than total hostility. “Sweetheart, you are making me mental!” is a much better retort than, “You %*$!#. Try to make up. Try to reconcile. Try to balance the emotional ledger. If both parties are committed, it’s never to late to repair. Marriage is good for your health.