Family Matters

Why Marriage Is Good for Your Health — Until You Get Sick

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It’s supposed to last through sickness and in health, but it turns out that it’s a better idea to get married because you love someone, not because you think it’s going to keep you healthy for the long haul.

That’s the message from a study published this month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, which contradicts previous research that extolled the health benefits of partnership. It turns out that marriage is all well and good — until a person’s health starts declining.

While studies of married and single people show that healthy unmarried people are far likelier to die than healthy married people during the 20-year research period, the numbers equal out when both married and unmarried people report poor health. “Marriage is more protective for healthy people,” says lead author Hui Zheng, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

(MOREIs There Hope for the American Marriage?)

In the study, researchers tracked 789,000 people who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 1986 to 2004. Participants were asked to rate their health from excellent to poor. Follow-up data allowed Zheng and Patricia Thomas, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, to determine that 24,100 participants died between 1986 and 2006.

When they reported excellent health, unmarried people in the study were on average 75% more likely to have died than married people. More specifically, separated folks were 58% more likely to die during these studies, divorced people were 62% more likely and widowed people were 93% more likely to kick the bucket compared with married people.

Marriage, then, can be a boon for a health. “It encourages people to maintain good health behaviors and have good social support and a sense of purpose in life,” says Zheng.

But while “marriage is good for health … its protective effect declines as people’s health declines,” says Zheng. Unmarried people who reported fair (as opposed to excellent, very good, good or poor) health were 40% more likely to die than similar married people in the study. That breaks down to a 39% greater risk of dying for those who were separated, a 31% higher risk for divorced people and 20% higher risk of dying for widowed people compared with those who were married.

(MORE: Same-Sex Couples Not as Healthy as Heterosexual Married Couples)

What’s going on? Does love fade as health fades? That’s hard to document from the studies analyzed, but part of the explanation may be more prosaic. Married people are not as quick to report declining health as unmarried people are. So by the time a married person cops to having failing health, that person may already be in dire straits.

Meanwhile, a separate Danish study published this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology has found that gay men are doing pretty well with longevity: their mortality rate has dropped below that of unmarried or divorced men. Denmark boasted the world’s first legislation in 1989 recognizing same-sex partnerships.

The good news doesn’t extend to married lesbians, however; their mortality rates rose, primarily because of suicide and cancer, according to the same research. Researchers aren’t sure why marriage didn’t have the same beneficial effects on lesbians’ health as it had on men’s health.

The complicated results confirm one thing that’s clear about marriage — it is indeed complicated, especially when it comes to the ways that these perfect unions can impact health and longevity.

MOREIs There Hope for the American Marriage?

74 comments
Bleakwise
Bleakwise

Truth. Why is it that when people get married they gain 60-70 pounds. They don't say "how do you make a model into a cow? Marry her!" for no reason. Same goes for men. He was Superman when you married him, now all he does is lay on the couch with a beer watching football games and bitching about his dead end job.

The article is VERY misleading. They compare "healthy" separated "singles" to "healthy" married couples. Why not consider all the unhealthy married couples that were still healthy when they were single? It's like clockwork really.

It's really no surprise. Jealousy will devour your soul and health in a second if you let it. What do you expect to happen when you aren't allowed to leave the house, see your friends, have fun, look pretty, feel confident, talk to strangers, eat alone, masturbate, or even look at the opposite sex? It's no wonder they have to hide the "real" numbers.

dekosuke
dekosuke

@_YORiMac なるほど・・・まあなろうとしてなるものではないですし・・・

babspacker
babspacker

Funny how the only single people whose health they compare to married people are those who are separated, divorced, or widowed.  How about all of us who are HAPPILY single, who haven't gone through a traumatic un-coupling?  I have a feeling that those of us in THAT single group are at LEAST as healthy as those who are happily married.  These studies need to be done better, include ALL singles, not just the ones who make their point.

ceodad
ceodad

Hi to all,

My comment is on Ms Rochman's most recent article in Time Ma. " Executive Parenting" running your family like a business.( I didn't see it posted here so this was the closest I could come and fore those of you who haven't read it, I recommend it highly!!!!

It warmed my heart that the subject was in the atmosphere since years ago I created a nationally syndicated comic strip called CEO DAD, whose sole purpose was to mock the admixture of these diametrically  opposed elements family/business,( even the godfather didn't attempt that). If you want to laugh at the tragic downside of emotional detachment in a family setting go to my site www.ceodad.com

Cheers,

Tom

Woody
Woody

Why would a soldier dive on a grenade to save his fellows?   Why would a mother care her dying child when she knows there is no hope?  Why would a husband care for his cancer ridden wife?  These are things beyond the mind.   They are matters of our deepest being, and for those that have not suffered the double edge sword of love I know of no words that can take you there.

guns4tots
guns4tots

The title of this article is totally misleading...the results as cited show that you're more likely to die if unmarried when you're healthy (75%) or sick (40%).  Then again, everybody dies, and marriage won't change that!

lilmac91199
lilmac91199

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 33. My marriage is actually stronger. My husband worries about me and makes sure that I am okay. In sickness and health applies in my marriage. I am beyond lucky to have the man in my life that I call husband. I am now 35 and he is 38. He is a loving, caring and very supportive man. I truly feel sorry for any marriage that falls apart because of an illness that is out of the others control. My sister was diagnosed with MS 2 years prior to me. Her partner has stood by her and takes care of her just as my husband takes care of me. Of course, they are not married; but they have been together sine 2000. I believe with all my heart that the both of us chose wisely in our relationships. 

PeterJohnson
PeterJohnson

My grandmother, on my mothers side, loved my grandfather. He developed Parkinson's in his early 60's. She stayed by his side, taking care of him, refusing to put him in a home, until the moment he died. He went from a man with a small shake in his hand who was otherwise completely healthy to a man in a wheel chair who could not walk or talk. In the end he barely knew who she was, but she never left his side. She took care of him all the way through, bathed him, wiped his behind ... right up until the moment he died.

My grandfather on my father's side loved my grandmother. She had a terrible stroke before I was born. When I first knew them, she could barely walk, could barely talk, I could barely understand her when I was a child. He stayed with her until the very end, helped her in every way she needed it, never considered putting her in a home, and did everything for her that my grandmother on my mother's side did for my grandfather.

 You can't tell me that each one of them didn't love the other. I saw it up close and personal. I often wonder if I'll ever love anybody else the way my grandparents, on both sides, clearly loved each other ... but true love does exist ... I've been fortunate enough, twice in my life, to see it .. and it's an amazing thing to behold ......

gemguy2
gemguy2

It's like anything else. True character always shows under duress or bad times. If you have the right partner, then they'll stick with you like glue no matter. Actually, in my case my marriage is stronger and better and I have some serious health issues. 

To all who do not have this kind of relationship, I feel very sorry for both of you. 

marriedbob
marriedbob

Yeah, getting seriously ill and older, and broke, changes things. Marriage might not last because of all the fun mixed togther

masonjar90
masonjar90

We're animals driven to procreate....everything else is secondary no matter how profound.

Gerson Arias
Gerson Arias

hahaha...... it's Good for our health until the troubles arrive....

Aung Kyaw
Aung Kyaw

so great ,soon i will marriage too.

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

Still sounds like a campaign pitch. What makes it tick?

nashv
nashv

So if I understand this correctly, the headline is incorrect. 

What the research actually seems to say is that - marraige is ALWAYS better for your health. However, the relative benefit it provides is somewhat diminished if the health of the married individual starts declining. It is still beneficial compared to being unmarried, just not as much as being married and healthy.

Rita Sor
Rita Sor

Yeah!im thinking dat!hahaha!

Barbara Maxtone-Graham
Barbara Maxtone-Graham

I don't believe in "marriage", luckily neither does my partner, having been there/done that...we celebrated our 14th year together recently and couldn't be happier...

T_Rixster
T_Rixster

@DesmadMD Marriage alone is a sickness so once you step into that realm you can be sure your health will deteriorate...nuff said

__Mouad
__Mouad

RT “@TIME: Marriage is good for your health, just don’t get sick | ti.me\/16vg7ZHSUY" it all depends on the wife

ChrisChugHug
ChrisChugHug

@PeterJohnson "She stayed by his side, taking care of him, refusing to put him in a home, until the moment he died."

So she put him in a home after he died?

siessdav
siessdav

@masonjar90 


You are a sad human being if that is in the front of your mind think. Pitiful.

wetz8842
wetz8842

@Gerson Arias Exactly, I was "happily married" for 25 years until I had a major accident. After that my wife told me "she didn't sign up for this". Now I am going through a divorce. I may not be the person I was when we were maried but I feel it is her loss.

babspacker
babspacker

@nashv No, the research says marriage is only better compared to DIVORCED, SEPARATED, or WIDOWED singles.  Singles who are happily single and not traumatically UN-coupled are most likely just as healthy, if not healthier, than marrieds.

RudyCramer
RudyCramer

@Barbara Maxtone-Graham Well i can see it will be easy for you to walk out when your partner stubs his toe.

21stcentury
21stcentury

@erika_garratt @TIME @TIMEHealthland 

True and more to the point the strength of character of each partner. So far I have seen more sacrificing wives than husbands at life's end no matter what the socioeconomic status or age.