Health Benefits of Marriage May Not Extend to All
Hui Zheng, assistant professor of sociology, is lead author of a new study finding marriage may not always be as beneficial to health as experts have led us to believe.
Zheng conducted the study with Patricia Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin. Their results appear in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Researchers made two discoveries that explain why: First, marriage provides less protection against mortality as health deteriorates, even though it does seem to benefit those who are in excellent health. Secondly, married people tend to overestimate how healthy they are, compared to others.
"We believe marriage is still good for the health of some people, but it is not equally protective for everyone," said Zheng. "For those who are already in poor health, marriage doesn't seem to provide any extra benefits."
The results generally held true for both men and women. They were also similar for all types of unmarried people, including divorced, widowed and never married, as well as separated people.
The researchers used data on about 789,000 people who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 1986 to 2004. In this survey, participants rated their own health on a five-point scale (excellent, very good, good, fair, poor). Zheng and Thomas then used follow-up data to identify the nearly 24,100 people who died between 1986 and 2006.
Overall, the researchers confirmed the volumes of previous research that has found that being unmarried - including never married, separated, divorced and widowed - significantly increases the risk of death within three years. For example, a never-married person who lists his health as "excellent" is two times more likely to die within three years than a similar married person in excellent health. But their new finding is that as self-rated health declines (from excellent down to poor); the mortality advantage for married people diminishes.
The research was supported in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Child Development.
Read the entire press release, courtesy of Jeff Grabmeier, director, research and innovation communications.