(September 2010) Marriage improves health indicators and decreases the risk of certain diseases, according to a report in the Harvard Men's Health Watch based on a survey of 127,545 American adults.1 On the other hand, marital stress, divorce, and the death of a spouse have the opposite effect, particularly on men. Studies over the years have found that marriage confers some health advantages that married men enjoy over their never-married, widowed, and divorced counterparts.2 Three factors contribute to overall better health for married men.
Married men enjoy biological advantages, which reduce their risk of certain diseases. In a Framingham Offspring Study, married men had a 46 percent lower rate of dying from cardiovascular disease than unmarried men. Married patients receive treatment for cancer in higher proportions and they show greater survival rates after therapy than unmarried individuals. A study by the University of Miami examined the survival rates of men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Findings showed that married men survived longer over a 17-year period than men who had never been married. On the other hand, the health of divorced and widowed men deteriorated because of marital stress. The death rate and risks of medical problems such as hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes increase for men who are divorced or deal with difficult family relationships.3 However, for divorced men over 50, remarriage offers great health benefits, restoring their health to the level of never-divorced married men.4
Marriage also influences behavioral factors, several of which contribute to better cumulative health. Married men are more likely to receive regular checkups and medical care, maintain healthy diets, exercise, and enjoy higher standards of living. In addition, married men benefit from lower levels of stress and fewer stress-related diseases. They also receive better care during times of illness. Overall, marriage appears to improve the lifestyle of men and stabilizes their lives. Contrary to this, never-married, divorced, and widowed men are more likely to drink excessively, engage in dangerous behavior, and smoke.
Furthermore, the psychological advantages of marriage include reduced risk of depression, lower incidence of isolation, and easier access to social interaction. Older married men in retirement also report more satisfaction with life than unmarried men. Unmarried couples in committed relationships also seem to receive some benefit from companionship, and they fare better than people who live alone. However, married men who live with their spouse have clear health advantages over both groups. In contrast, divorce increases the incidence of suicide in men and the death of a spouse raises their death rate. A long-term study in California tracked married adults and compared the survival rates of men based on whether or not they had lost a spouse. Healthy men who lost their wife were twice as likely to die during the study than healthy married men. The death of a spouse is linked to poorer nutrition, reduced social interaction and deterioration of other aspects of health.
Kata Fustos is an intern at the Population Reference Bureau.
- Harvard Men's Health Watch, "Marriage And Men's Health," July 2010, accessed at www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2010/July/marriage-and-mens-health?utm_source=mens&utm_medium=pressrelease&utm_campaign=mens0710, on July 19, 2010.
- RAND Corporation, "Health, Marriage, and Longer Life for Men," Center for the Study of Aging Research Brief (1998) accessed at www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB5018/index1.html, on July 21, 2010.
- Harvard Men's Health Watch, "Marriage And Men's Health."
- RAND Corporation, "Health, Marriage, and Longer Life for Men."