Lately I have observed more and more of my friends aspiring to be like Samantha from Sex and The City – i.e., having strings of casual sex and dating relationships – instead of following the traditional notion of settling down and getting married. Well, for all those non-believers of marriage, here is a reason to change your mind: according to a new study,1 marriage is good for your health.
The study used interview data and medical records from 569 patients, aged 28-89 years, who had open-heart surgeries at a medical center in the United States. Comparisons were made between married and unmarried (including single, widowed, separated, or divorced) patients. The findings revealed that married patients were 3 times more likely to survive the first 3 months after their cardiac surgeries compared to unmarried patients. The health-protective effects of marriage extended over a 5-year period in which the survival rate among married patients was almost twice that of their unmarried counterparts. Importantly, the health benefits of marriage applied to both males and females.
The researchers grappled with the classic chicken-or-the-egg question of which comes first, health or marriage. It could be that healthy people are more likely to get married and their pre-existing well-being protects them from illness in later life (aka selection theory). Alternatively, there may be something about marriage that increases individuals’ resilience against health problems (aka causation theory). The findings of the present study support the causation theory whereby marriage leads to health benefits. One reason for these benefits is that spouses monitor and control their partners’ risky health behaviors (such as smoking). The reduction in risky health behaviors, as one would expect, consequently leads to long-term health benefits.
So, the next time your spouse nags you for not living a healthy lifestyle, know it’s really for your own good.
1Idler, E. L., Boulifard, D. A., & Contrada, R. J. (2012). Mending broken hearts: Marriage and survival following cardiac surgery. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 53, 33-49.
Sonia Ip – Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology, The Australian National University
Sonia is a Registered Psychologist in Australia and is currently a doctoral student. Her thesis examines the role of alcohol in the early stages of romantic relationships, as well as the characteristics of intimate relationships among individuals with alcohol use disorders.