Married men usually are healthier than men who are single either by choice or by chance. Researchers who measure both mental and physical health report that married women rank second; they are followed by single women and then single men, said Bill Doherty, professor of family social science, University of Minnesota.
The health-and-happiness benefits attributed to marriage shouldn't come as a surprise-marriage confers benefits that go beyond what partners bring into the marriage. It's not just that healthier or more responsible people marry and, therefore, married people are healthier and more responsible. It's that being married changes people for the better. For example, couples can benefit from strong social support. Knowing that there will be someone in your corner who will be interested in the details of your life can lessen stress levels substantially. Couples also can benefit from bouncing ideas off each other or talking through issues and concerns. They have a support system, ready and waiting, he said.
In a marriage, each partner has a stake in the relationship and its success. It matters if a partner neglects his or her health, suffers through turmoil at work or struggles with a career change. Encouragement extends beyond the 'nag factor'-couples are less likely to smoke or drink to excess. They also are more likely to schedule regular check-ups and follow through on exercise or other recommendations that will improve their life or health. They may do so as a team or simply provide each other the reminder what's needed to see that the follow-through occurs.
Couples enjoy economic benefits, too. The possibility of two incomes can buffer job and other stresses and make a more comfortable lifestyle a reality. Nationally, only 11 percent of married couples fall below the poverty line; 50 percent of single-parent households fall into this category, Doherty said.
Undertaking family life as a couple can contribute to a couple's sense of well being and benefit the family. Children who are raised in a two-parent home where parenting responsibilities are shared usually fare better in life. The couple and their family also can benefit from a larger social circle. Couples usually have friends as individuals and as partners; each partner will have a family of origin and extended family. Their circle of family and friends is wider, so their opportunities are likely to increase, he said.
Since a successful marriage can foster mental and physical health, researchers believe that it also can contribute to a longer, healthier life.