Marriage and Health

Marriage is associated with a variety of health benefits, including physical and psychological wellbeing and longer life expectancy.

  • Psychological Well-Being. Marriage is associated with improved psychological well-being. Marriage was associated with reduced levels of depression. Specifically, married individuals who did not cohabit prior to getting married reported, on average, a reduction in their levels of depression compared to unmarried individuals who were not in cohabiting relationships. Being in a cohabiting relationship or being in a marriage preceded by cohabitation did not affect depression. In addition, married individuals, regardless of prior cohabitation status, reported similar levels of depression.1
  • Psychological Well-Being. Experiencing a divorce, separation, or the death of a spouse is linked to reduced psychological well-being. Over a five-year period, individuals who divorced, separated, or became widowed reported more depressive symptoms than individuals who remained married. The effects of divorce on depression appeared to be more significant for women than for men.2
  • Alcohol Abuse. For both men and women, marriage appears to reduce alcohol abuse. Marriage reduced binge drinking for both men and women, particularly for men, in the first two years surrounding marriage. Marriage appeared to have reduced the fraction of men who reported any binge drinking behavior by 10 percent and the frequency of such drinking episodes by 11 percent. Marriage reduced the proportion of women who reported any binge drinking behavior by 20 percent. In contrast, cohabitation did not appear to reduce binge drinking for men and reduced the share of women who reported any binge drinking behavior by 19 percent.3
  • Longevity. Marriage is associated with lower mortality risk. Over the course of eight years, the odds of mortality were 58 percent higher for never-married individuals, 27 percent for divorced/ separated individuals, and 39 percent for widowed individuals, compared to married individuals.4
  • Family Structure and Adult Mortality Risk. Childhood family living arrangement is linked to adult mortality risk. Compared to males who grew up in intact families, those who lived with their biological fathers but not their biological mothers had higher risk of adult mortality. The relationship appeared to be explained in part by health behavior in adulthood. The risk of adult mortality did not differ between those who lived with both parents at age 15 and those who lived with their biological mothers but not their biological fathers (including those living with mothers only and those with their mothers and stepfathers).5
  • Cardiovascular Disease. For women, marriage appears to offer some protection against cardiovascular disease. For women, experiencing parental divorce, but not parental death, before the age of 17 was associated with acute, but not chronic, health problems in midlife. Lower levels of educational attainment and family income as well as higher levels of drug use associated with childhood parental divorce appeared to explain the relationship between parental divorce and acute health problems.6
  • Physical Health. For women, childhood parental divorce is associated with acute health problems in midlife. For women, experiencing parental divorce, but not parental death, before age 17 was associated with acute, but not chronic, health problems in midlife. Lower levels of educational attainment and family income as well as higher levels of drug use associated with childhood parental divorce appeared to explain the relationship between parental divorce and acute health problems.7
  • Physical Health. For men, childhood parental divorce is linked to chronic and acute health problems in midlife. For men, experiencing parental divorce, but not parental death, before age 17 was associated with acute and chronic health problems in midlife. Lower levels of educational attainment and family social support as well as higher levels of drug use (but not smoking) associated with childhood parental divorce appeared to account mostly for the relationship between parental divorce and acute health problems and to explain, in part, the relationship between chronic health problems and parental divorce.8
  • Weight Change. A stable marital status is unassociated with any weight change, while divorce and widowhood appears to be somewhat associated with weight loss and marriage with weight gain. Stable marital status (remaining married, never married, divorced/separated, widowed) over a ten-year period was not associated with any significant weight change for either women or men, except perhaps among men who remained divorced/separated. Entry into marriage appeared to be associated with weight gain for women, but not for men, who appeared to experience weight loss instead. Becoming divorced or separated appeared to be associated with weight loss for men but not for women. Experiencing the death of a spouse appeared to be associated with weight loss for men but not for women.9
  • Exercise Time. Married individuals tend to spend less time exercising than never-married, divorced, or separated individuals. Married individuals, particularly married men, tended to spend less time exercising compared to those who were not married. On average, never-married individuals spent 2.5 hours more and divorced/ separated individuals spent 1.9 hours more time exercising over a period of two weeks, compared to married individuals. Among those who were never married, men averaged two hours more time exercising than women.10

Footnotes

  1. Kathleen A. Lamb, Gary R. Lee, and Alfred DeMaris, “Union Formation and Depression: Selection and Relationship Effects,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 4 (November 2003): 953- 962.
  2. Robin W. Simon, “Revisiting the Relationships among Gender, Marital Status, and Mental Health,” American Journal of Sociology 107, No. 4 (January 2002): 1065-1096.
  3. Greg Duncan, “Cleaning up Their Act: The Effects of Marriage and Cohabitation on Licit and Illicit Drug Use,” Demography 43, No. 4 (November 2006): 691-710.
  4. Robert M. Kaplan and Richard G. Kronick, “Marital Status and Longevity in the U.S. Population,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60, No. 9, (September 2006): 760-765.
  5. Mark D. Hayward and Bridget K. Gorman, “The Long Arm of Childhood: The Influence of Early-Life Social Conditions on Men’s Mortality,” Demography 41, No. 1 (February 2004): 87-107.
  6. Zhenmei Zhang and Mark D. Hayward, “Gender, the Marital Life Course, and Cardiovascular Disease in Late Life,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68, No. 4 (August 2006): 639-657.
  7. E. Hailey Maier and Margie E. Lachman, “Consequences of Early Parental Loss and Separation of Health and Well-being in Midlife,” International Journal of Behavioral Development 24, No. 2 (June 2002): 183-189.
  8. E. Hailey Maier and Margie E. Lachman, “Consequences of Early Parental Loss and Separation of Health and Well-being in Midlife,” International Journal of Behavioral Development 24, No. 2 (June 2002): 183-189.
  9. Jeffrey Sobal, Barbara Rauschenbach, and Edward A. Frongillo, “Marital Status Changes and Body Weight Changes: A US Longitudinal Analysis,” Social Science & Medicine 56, No. 7 (April 2003) 1543-1546.
  10. Kei M. Nomaguchi and Suzanne Bianchi, “Exercise Time: Gender Differences in the Effects of Marriage, Parenthood, and Employment,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66, No. 1 (February 2004): 147-162.