Various studies have attempted to measure whether marriage truly makes people healthier and happier, and how it compares to the lives of bachelors and single ladies out there. Sure, being single may be more fun — and being married may be more comforting and meaningful. But how do these two different paths of life compare when it comes to health risks and benefits?
It’s often up to the individual to maintain health on their own, but certain lifestyles and life choices — like career or marriage — can definitely have an effect on your health and longevity. Here’s how.
Consistent research has shown that being married is actually good for your heart. In one recent study out of New York University’s Lagone Medical Center, researchers found that married men and women had a five percent lower chance of cardiovascular disease compared to single people. Doctors aren't entirely sure why, but it's possible that since marriages typically offer a person emotional support, physical and intellectual intimacy, as well as deeper social ties to family, they might lower blood pressure and improve heart health overall.
However, another recent study out of Michigan State University plays devil’s advocate: It found that people in a bad marriage were actually more likely to experience negative cardiovascular effects, compared to people in good marriages. So it’s not necessarily about whether you’re married or not. It’s all about how happy it’s making you, and whether your relationship is healthy or strained.
“Married people seem healthier because marriage may promote health,” said Hui Liu, a Michigan State University sociologist who is an author of the study. “But it’s not that every marriage is better than none. The quality of marriage is really important.”
For single people, while you may not have the advantage of your risk of cardiovascular disease being lowered like your married counterparts, you can offset that with some other heart-healthy benefits of being single, like an increased likelihood to exercise, take care of yourself on your own, and surround yourself with close friends and family which can all act as stress reducers.
Your spouse can drive you crazy. But so can isolation and loneliness. So which one wins?
According to Robin Simon, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University, marriage has for a long time been associated with better mental health. "At this point, hundreds of studies document a robust relationship between marriage and improved mental health: Married people report significantly fewer symptoms of depression and are significantly less likely to abuse substances than their non-married counterparts," Simon writes in Psychiatry Weekly. "This is because marriage provides social support — including emotional, financial, and instrumental support. Also, married people have greater psychosocial (or coping) resources than the non-married — higher self-esteem and greater mastery."
At the same time, not having a spouse doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to loneliness forever. In fact, it might mean the opposite. With more time at your disposal, you may have more friends to surround yourself with. Single people are far more likely to have a big group of people around them more often, which can make up for the "loneliness" they might feel in the romantic sense. And let's be straightforward: When you're single, you have less drama to deal with, and therefore less headache.
It seems that so far, marriage has most of the benefits. Perhaps except for this one: Married people are more likely to gain weight than their single counterparts.
One study found that married men were actually 25 percent more likely to be overweight or obese compared to other men — whether they were in committed relationships or single. The authors of the study argue that “once [people] get married they let themselves go,” meaning an individual may be more likely to stay in shape and groom themselves when they’re out on the market and trying to attract mates. Once you’re settled into a comfortable routine with the same person, the emphasis on looks and waistline may not matter as much. Another study found that unmarried adults exercised more than married adults.
Getting married is a good way to live longer — at least that's what research says. Having a family and living with a spouse gives individuals something to live for, compared to their single counterparts who may have been used to living a self-centered life. Researchers have also found that men, in particular, benefit from marriage in the life span department. They're less likely to commit suicide than their single counterparts, and they're more likely to do things like go to the doctor, get their check-ups, stop drinking alcohol, and take their medication because their wives stay on top of them. Likewise, one study found that married people recovered much quicker from surgery than single people, because they had someone to take care of them.
Again, if your marriage is unhealthy, unhappy, and it contributes significantly to stress, emotional strain, and obesity, then I'd imagine these benefits dissolve.
But at the end of the day, it's not necessarily what you have but rather what you do with it. Whether single or married, it's important to focus on the quality of your relationship, friendships, and your own self-care rather than comparing yourself to your single friends or couple friends and assuming it's always greener on the other side.