Does Being Married Improve Life Expectancy?

And Why It's OK to Be Single

A senior married couple enjoys breakfast together.
A senior married couple enjoys breakfast together. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

When you grow old, who will take care of you? For many, that is a husband or wife. So does marriage improve life expectancy? Here's what research shows.

Does Marriage Improve Life Expectancy?

Marriage was one of the first non-biological factors identified as improving life expectancy. The explanation given was that married people tend to take fewer risks with their health and have better mental and emotional health.

Marriage also provides more social and material support, which means having someone to take you to the doctor or care for you when you are sick.

However, research shows that the difference between married people and single people, in terms of health, is narrowing. This could be because the definitions of marriage are changing, or that people have other outlets for care.

The Changing Face of Marriage and Life Expectancy

No one is saying that having a piece of paper that says “married” on it is going to improve your life expectancy. However, there is something about people who live in marriage that improves life expectancy — or to be more precise, there was something about people who lived in marriage in the 70s that was found to improve life expectancy.

Now, people can be listed as “single never married” in census data, but be living with someone and be experiencing all the health benefits of marriage without having the marriage certificate.

This complicates research on marriage and health.

Being Single Can Be Healthy

Research show that people who are single, especially men, are living longer than ever before. In the past, men who were never married typically had the lowest life expectancy, but now the never married men are closing in on their currently married counterparts.

Experts believe the difference in life expectancy is becoming smaller because single men now have access to support and health resources that, in the past, only came because their wife took care of them. In other words, 40 years ago, married men had the advantage (over never married men) because they had their wives to make sure they went to the doctor and took care of themselves. Now, men are taking more responsibility for their own health and it is normal for a man to express concern about his health and take action.

Why Being Widowed Hurts

Losing a spouse who you have lived with your entire life is devastating for husbands and wives alike. As a result, research shows that people who are widowed have slightly worse health than people who are married. This is an issue that has gotten worse in recent years: No one really knows why the experience of being widowed now is more detrimental to health than being widowed in the past, however it is possible that people had more of a community and extended family to help them out.

Now, the widowed are more likely to be isolated.

Regardless of whether you're single, married or widowed, there are things you can do on your own to improve your longevity. Check out these resources for some tips:

How to Live Longer for Women

Minimizing Risk for the Top Five Most Common Killers for Older Men

Slow Down Aging With These 5 Lifestyle Habits

Source:

Liu H, Umberson DJ. The times they are a changin’: marital status and health differentials from 1972 to 2003. J Health Soc Behav 49(3), 2008.

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