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Marriage

Are Married People Really Healthier Than Everyone Else?

Research on resilience, inflammation, fitness, and more.

Key points

  • Evidence suggests that singles are healthier than those who are married, partly due to their higher levels of exercise and resilience.
  • Singles are more likely to be physically active than married people possibly because they have more free time and pressure to attract a partner.
  • Studies have found that single war veterans are less likely to exhibit symptoms of PTSD than their married counterparts.
Chevanon Photography/Pexels
Source: Chevanon Photography/Pexels

A recent CNN article carries the bombastic title, "Men Living Alone Are at Greater Risk of Inflammation." But the results of the actual study are more moderate and are focused on associations rather than causality. Moreover, a similar effect was not found among women. "We have found a significant association between partnership breakups or years lived alone and inflammation for men only, after adjustment for selected confounders," said the researcher of that study. "In women, we find no such effect."

The Bigger Picture

While many studies seek to claim that those in long-term relationships or marriages are healthier,1 increasing evidence suggests that, in fact, singles are healthier. This may be a reflection of the changing nature of the growing population of singles, indicative of cultural changes that facilitate improved health of singles, experimental error, or a result of persistent discrimination and prejudice against singles that leads to skewed results.2,3

For instance, relative to being in a long-term relationship or marriage, being single is associated with higher levels of exercise, mainly since family roles and relationship commitments often curtail the time available for exercise.

An analysis of data from the 1995 National Health Interview Survey in the US sheds some light on the ways in which being in a relationship can reduce the expected amount of exercise.4 In a large sample (N = 13,496) of adults aged 18 to 64, it was found that unmarried adults spend significantly more time exercising than married adults. The expected amount of time spent exercising also decreases if there are children under 5 years old in the household. Perhaps more tellingly, while long hours of employment were associated with doing less exercise, the effect of work commitments was small in comparison to the effect of relationship commitment.

Moreover, relationship formation and marriage are frequently associated with weight gain, either due to the reduced motivation to attract new mates5 or as a result of the stress associated with managing a relationship.6 Since a large minority of marriages now end in divorce, relationship dissolution and its associated effects are increasingly relevant.

A longitudinal study in Australia, for example, shows that 10 years of weight gain for a 140-pound woman was found to be 20 pounds following marriage and children, 15 pounds following marriage with no children, and only 11 pounds for those who remained single.7

The same may also be true for men, although more studies are required in order to confirm this. Married men, however, are more likely to suffer from sexual function disorders such as pain during sex, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction order than single men.3

In addition, being single has not only been associated with improved physical health, but also with mental health, with some arguing that long-term singles are more resilient than those in relationships, and are therefore better equipped to deal with injury, illness, and bouncing back from hardships.8

One such study that demonstrates this empirically looks at the rates of PTSD among war veterans from 1999 to 2008 in the US. The findings suggest that war veterans who were single are far less likely to exhibit symptoms of PTSD than their married counterparts. Moreover, those already in long-term relationships and marriages were more prone to relationship dissolution and divorce compared to the rest of the population, therefore decreasing happiness.9

In addition, a night of good sleep is vital in all aspects of human health. Couples might have different preferences such as different room temperatures and different bedtimes. These preferences have been found to make it difficult for the partners to adapt, which in turn makes them sleep-deprived.10 Singles are thus also likely to sleep better than some couples, especially if the couple has different sleeping habits.

Why Being Single May Make One Healthier

One plausible reason for singles being healthier is because couples who are satisfied and secure no longer feel the pressure to attract new partners and keep in good shape. Oftentimes, in our culture, marriage is an end goal and married people simply give up on taking care of themselves.

Another reason is dietary changes following partner influence. If one partner is having a heavy dinner, the other partner is tempted to join in despite his or her stomach's will.

Furthermore, singles have more leisure time in general and hence are more likely to be physically active. While married people are focused inwards toward their families, singles are often occupied with nurturing their hobbies, which include many sports activities.

Conclusion

It seems that although many have argued that marriage is key to health and happiness, being single nowadays may have some advantages. We must rid ourselves of the outdated thought that marriage is the only path to enjoying good health.

Facebook image: EvgeniiAnd/Shutterstock

References

References

1 Heather L Koball, Emily Moiduddin, Jamila Henderson, Brian Goesling, and Melanie Besculides, 'What Do We Know About the Link between Marriage and Health?', Journal of Family Issues (2010); Maggie Gallagher, and Linda Waite, 'The Case for Marriage', (New York: Random House, 2000).

2 Bella DePaulo, 'Single in a Society Preoccupied with Couples', Handbook of solitude: Psychological perspectives on social isolation, social withdrawal, and being alone (2014), 302-16.

3 ———, Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After (New York: Macmillan, 2007).

4 Kei M Nomaguchi, and Suzanne M Bianchi, 'Exercise Time: Gender Differences in the Effects of Marriage, Parenthood, and Employment', Journal of Marriage and Family, 66 (2004), 413-30.

5 Andrea L Meltzer, Sarah A Novak, James K McNulty, Emily A Butler, and Benjamin R Karney, 'Marital Satisfaction Predicts Weight Gain in Early Marriage', Health Psychology, 32 (2013), 824.

6 Jason P Block, Yulei He, Alan M Zaslavsky, Lin Ding, and John Z Ayanian, 'Psychosocial Stress and Change in Weight among Us Adults', American journal of epidemiology (2009), kwp104.

7 Julie Byles, Annette Dobson, Nancy Pachana, Leigh Tooth, Deborah Loxton, Janneke Berecki, Richard Hockey, Deirdre McLaughlin, and Jenny Powers, 'Women, Health and Ageing: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health', (2010).

8 Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (Penguin, 2012).

9 Sebastian Negrusa, Brighita Negrusa, and James Hosek, 'Gone to War: Have Deployments Increased Divorces?', Journal of Population Economics, 27 (2014), 473-96.

10 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1752-0606.1991.tb00864…

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