Stuff.co 24 October 2013
Want to live a long life? Get married.
Study after study has shown that married people, particularly married men, live significantly longer than their single friends. Some of the research is overall correlation, while other studies look at specific diseases and possible mechanisms. Doctors at Harvard tossed some more data on the pile last month, showing that married patients were more likely to identify cancer in its early stages and less likely to die from the disease than their unmarried peers. Epidemiologists refer to the well-established correlation between marriage and longevity as the “marriage protection hypothesis.”
The marriage protection hypothesis isn’t entirely surprising. Unlike the connection between alcohol and longevity, which still lacks a fully coherent explanation, there are a handful of intuitive and attractive reasons why marriage might extend your life.
Having a family gives people something to live for, which may discourage risky behaviours like smoking and riding a motorcycle. Married men commit suicide at lower rates than singles, possibly for the same reason. Your spouse may urge you to get a mammogram, wear sunscreen or have that worrisome mole checked out. A life partner provides an outlet to discuss personal stresses. (One medical argument in favour of the legalisation of same-sex marriage is that gay people have significantly lower stress levels when married.) Married people may remain more intellectually engaged with others, which helps avoid dementia. And healthy people may be more likely to attract a mate and marry than unhealthy people.
It’s not all good news for married people, though: marriage also increases obesity rates. Getting married raises the risk of a woman becoming overweight by 3.9 percentage points compared to peers who did not marry, and marriage increases her risk of obesity by 1.4 percentage points. The effect is more pronounced for men. Married men see a 6.1 percentage point rise in the risk of becoming overweight and a 3.3 percentage point increase in the risk of obesity.