Health Effect of Marriage and Other Social Relationships

(June 2009) Social relationships keep older people healthy, and the marriage relationship is especially beneficial. A growing body of research helps explain how social interaction interacts with social, physical, and psychological factors that affect an individual’s health, and the importance of maintaining social networks and relationships later in life. Social relationships and interaction are associated with a wide range of health benefit, especially in older ages. In a June 1 webcast, sociologist and demographer Linda Waite discussed her research on these interactions with PRB.

The benefits of marriage extend beyond the daily social interaction and the shared network of family and friends. Waite explained, for example, that married couples usually divide responsibility for common household tasks, including home maintenance, shopping, and bill-paying, which lessens each spouse’s individual burden. As couples grow older, such cooperative arrangements assume more importance, especially if a spouse’s health begins to decline.

Linda Waite is the Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology and director of the Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Waite, past president of the Population Association of America, has published extensively on marriage, working families, and aging. Her current research investigates the links between biology, psychology, and the social world, and the relationship between loneliness, stress, and health.