Shaking another person’s hand is one of the most common greetings in Western culture. These simple gestures really speak volumes. It’s why women who work in the corporate world often offer a confident and strong grip when they meet a new client, and it’s why fathers tell their sons to look the other person squarely in the eye before shaking their hand firmly, why it's been so funny to watch President Trump take part in a lot of awkward handshakes since he took office (remember that one time he shook Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand for a full 19 seconds? Yikes.). First impressions are everything.
In fact, a new study published in the journal SSM-Population Health suggests the grip of a man’s handshake may even play a role in his marriage prospects.
As we get older, our grip ability—that is, how firmly we grip something with our hand—starts to decline. It’s a signal of our health and our ability to cope independently, which is why researchers at Columbia University focused on grip strength and its association with marriage. Although some researchers are skeptical that the health benefits to marriage still exist, generally speaking, people who study this stuff believe individuals who have taken the big plunge tend to be healthier and live longer. Also informing their investigation was past research that suggests men tend to marry for looks and personality while women often seek a partner who’s strong and has the ability to provide.
The study’s authors looked at two groups of subjects (totaling more than 5,000 people) between the ages of 59 and 71 living in Norway. In both groups, about three-quarters were married. When researchers calculated their grip strength (using a rubber balloon), they found that the men who never married had significantly lower strength compared with married men, and those numbers were greater for the younger cohort. For women, however, marriage did not appear to be associated with how strong their grip was.
According to the study’s authors, their results “hint that women may be favoring partners who signal strength and vigor when they marry.”
They also point out that while women have grown less dependent on men for economic stability, men still appear to need women to help them in their old age. “Men’s ‘health dependence’ may require a different sort of education and experience as well as new housing alternatives that provide more collective in lieu of spousal support,” the authors write.
As Vegard Skirbekk, professor of population and family health in the Columbia Aging Center and lead author on the study noted in a statement: “If longer-lived women marry healthier men, then both may avoid or defer the role of caregiver, while less healthy men remain unmarried and must look elsewhere for assistance.”
Researchers were not, however, able to answer whether a weaker grip led to a person being less likely to marry or if being married may have improved a man’s physical strength. If you consider how many pickle jars a husband may have to open for his wife over a lifetime, it seems pretty plausible (to me, at least) that marriage offers unique opportunities to build muscle.