It’s a good thing tying the knot comes with a bunch of benefits (a.k.a. guaranteed sex and knowing that "Netflix and chill" really means pajamas and House of Cards)—because a recent study suggests the health advantages of marriage are no longer there.
In the past, researchers have pretty much agreed that married people tend to be, on average, healthier than single people. For example, according to one study, “having never been married is a better predictor of poor health outcomes than either divorce or widowhood.” Another report found men who’d never been hitched were three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than married men.
But as Dmitry Tumin, research assistant professor in pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, writes in his research published in Social Science Quarterly, the institution of marriage is changing—and has been for a while. In order to find out if those health benefits still exist among younger groups of people, Tumin analyzed data from a longitudinal survey featuring married individuals born between 1955 and 1984; his final samples came out to 6,222 men and 6,151 women.
What he found may have couples revisiting the “in sickness and in health” part of their vows more than they’d like. The only group of married people who reported better general health than unmarried adults were those who’d been in a relationship for 10 or more years, and that was only among women. Additionally, these health benefits “eroded entirely” in the youngest group of women.
“[T]hese findings,” the author wrote, “give further reason for skepticism about the capacity of marriage to enhance the public health.”
The question is, why? Tumin suggests a number of possible explanations, including demographic and cultural trends. For example, people are waiting to get married at a later age; therefore, the social support they might have otherwise benefited from with a spouse is gleaned from roommates, family, and friends.
Another factor may be that people are choosing to live together before they get married. “Therefore, in more recent cohorts, marriage has become a gradual process of moving in together and then deciding to get married,” the study states. “Such drawn-out transitions may imply more gradual changes in health, delaying or weakening the health benefits of getting married.”
Tumin also suggests that perhaps today’s marital unions, plagued by economic struggles, more time in the office, and less time together, have become more “a source of conflict and stress than a resource that safeguards their health.” It’s certainly possible: Past research cited in the study showed that the marital rates among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups have declined.
The good news about these findings is they can help shape future research endeavors and initiatives aimed at supporting marriage and married couples. “Our understanding of the way marriage can benefit people is changing because we are now studying younger cohorts, and we are using better methods to do this,” Tumin tells Brides. “Using data from large, high-quality surveys can help us think through how people should expect to benefit from marriage.”
That’s reassuring—couples dropping tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding reception will want to get something good out of their investment.