Scientists have been studying the differences in health among couples versus single people for quite some time; overall, the consensus is that people who are married fare better than those who aren’t. That notion has been backed up by a new report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in light of Men's Health Month shows that married men were more likely than cohabiting men and other single men to visit the doctor in the past 12 months.
Many things can account for this phenomenon: spouses remind one another to routinely get health check-ups; someone who takes care of you will be more likely to nag you to do the little things you might let slip otherwise. In the CDC report, researchers found that men who had access to health insurance were more likely to seek health care if they were married. “When men have the means to access health care, spouses may play a role in their use of health care by directly encouraging men to seek preventive care and by indirectly evoking in men a sense of economic and social obligation to the family,” the authors write in the report. “The results suggest that cohabiting partners do not play a similar health-promoting role.”
In fact, the researchers found that people who lived together — and were not married — actually experienced the opposite result: they were less likely to maintain health and attend routine check-ups. The researchers used data from the 2011-2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and reviewed men ages 18-64; comparing those who were married to those who were living with a partner, as well as to “other” not-married men, such as people living alone.
When it came to preventative clinical measures, like getting blood pressure checked or being screened for type 2 diabetes, married men were more likely to follow through than cohabiting men. In fact, “cholesterol and diabetes screenings were less likely for cohabiting men than for other not-married men,” the report states.
Why Do Married People Win Out?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure what makes married people more likely to take care of their health than not-married individuals, but there are plenty of factors that could be playing roles. Loneliness has been linked to adverse health effects in the past, so it’s possible that simply living with someone can help ease stress. “Another potential factor is loneliness; is the institution of marriage linked to better health, or is it simply a question of living with another person?” Harvard Health Publications writes on its website. “Although studies vary, the answer seems to be a little of both. People living with unmarried partners tend to fare better than those living alone, but men living with their wives have the best health of all.”
According to Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that marriage is good for heart health; it's also helpful in improving survival outcomes for cancer patients and increasing life span. Though marriage itself doesn’t prevent cancer, having a spouse to take care of you during chemotherapy can improve the outcome. Harvard states that there are several factors behind this phenomenon: biological, behavioral, and psychological. Biologically, stress from divorce or loneliness can take quite the toll on your health. And being married is more likely to keep men from smoking, drinking, or engaging in other risky behaviors excessively, which explains the behavioral factor. When it comes to psychology, being socially isolated can contribute to depression and stress, which can bring health down a notch.