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Marriage promotes longevity, study finds

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1 2012 11:34 p.m. MDT

Cathy Hiu-Liu, lead researcher of a study linking marriage to longevity, poses outside Berkey Hall at Michigan State University.

G. L. Kohuth, Michigan State University

The number of Americans who live together without being married continues to rise — from 400,000 in 1960 to 7.6 million in 2011, according to census data. New research has found that married people live longer than their cohabitating counterparts.

"This helps us to understand the implications of this relatively new rise in cohabitation," MSU sociologist Hui Liu, the study's lead researcher, told the Deseret News. "Many assume marriage and cohabitation are wholly the same, but our research showed that cohabitation, generally, led to a shorter lifespan."

Mortality differences

Researchers Liu and Corinne Reczek at the University of Cincinnati looked at the national health survey data of nearly 200,000 people, taken from 1997 to 2004. They found that the rate of mortality among men in cohabitating relationships dropped by 80 percent, while the rate dropped 59 percent for women.

Additional studies are finding that married couples experience lower levels of heart disease, cancers, flu, Alzheimer's, depression and stress, Karen Sherman, author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, & Make It Last," told the Deseret News.

Happily married individuals undergoing heart bypass surgery are three times more likely to stay alive 15 years later than their single peers, Sherman said.

There were no significant mortality differences between blacks who were married and blacks who simply lived together, the study found.

Whites are more likely to cohabitate as a trial run before marriage, which may mean lower levels of shared social, psychological and economic resources, Liu said. Blacks, however, perceive it as an alternative to marriage.

The study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

The study has been criticized for blind spots, as it did not account for differing degrees of marriage. High-conflict marriages have been shown to cause more stress, Melody Brooke, marriage and family therapist and author of "Oh Wow! This Changes Everything!," wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

Marriage is a mixed bag, Brooke wrote. A bad marriage can be lethal to your health and emotional well-being, but a good marriage can bring countless emotional and physical benefits.

Beyond longevity

We've done something unprecedented in America over the last 30 years, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher argue in "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially." "We've managed to transform the most basic and universal of human institutions, marriage, into something controversial."

"For perhaps the first time in human history, marriage as an ideal is under a sustained and suprisingly successful attack," Waite and Gallagher wrote. Whether the attack is direct or ideological, "experts" believe a lifelong vow of fidelity to be unrealistic or oppressive, especially to women.

But wives are five times less likely — and husbands four times less likely — than single or divorced mates to be victims of crime, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"Humans are wired to be in a primary relationship," Cynthia Eddings, couples therapist in Santa Monica, wrote in an email to the Deseret News. A secure home base facilitates growth within and beyond the home.

Happily married couples help one another heal childhood wounds, develop the ability to see perspectives other than their own, and develop an "interdependency" in relying upon one another — something psychologists now define as psychological health, Brooke wrote.

The security of a stable and healthy marriage provides the sanity and decompression that is necessary to functioning in such a stressful world, Sharon O'Neille, a 30-year licensed marriage and family therapist in Mount Kisco, N.Y., wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

The benefits of marriage go beyond the individual level, Lesli Doares, author of "Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work," said. Strong and healthy marriages provide a stable, secure base for children. "The more secure the child, the greater rewards for society as a whole in reduced violence, poverty, substance abuse, etc."

Since 1960, the poverty rates are lower in two-parent families than in single-mother families, according to The Future of Children, a research-oriented collaboration between the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

"The post-1960 changes in marriage and family formation also appear to be depriving children of such documented benefits of marriage as better physical and emotional health and greater socioeconomic attainment," The Future of Children found.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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