Teams of scientists around the world are all hard at work on a single subject. While we wish they were singularly focused on curing fatal diseases or giving the world the hovercraft that we so desperately need, they just can't stop studying whether it's healthier to be single or married.
The latest finding actually comes from an analysis of 90 previous studies that included 500 million people. Researchers from the University of Louisville compared the risk of mortality for single people and those who are married, excluding those who are widowed and divorced, MSNBC reports. Unsurprisingly, they found that marriage is beneficial. Single men have a 32% higher risk of death across their lifetime, and single women have a 23% higher risk. That means that "under the worst-case scenario" single men could die 17 years earlier than married men, and single women could die 15 years earlier.
Lead author David Roelfs speculates that this could be because single people have poorer health benefits, less public assistance, and a lower income. While Roelfs acknowledges that the unmarried still have parents, siblings and friends to look out for them, he adds that having less social support "by default" might be a contributing factor. He explains:
"If you're a couple, a spouse may be after you to eat better and go the doctor ... Sometimes it's just easier to be healthier and less of a risk taker when you're married."
Coincidentally, another study came out today that (sort of) contradicts that theory. While scientists have found that being married can promote healthy habits, like going to the doctor, University of Cincinnati researchers say couples can also pick up each other's bad habits. Married straight couples and cohabitating gay and lesbian couples all said their partner could be a "bad influence." In some instances, rather than admonishing each other about staying healthy, the partners just encouraged each other to have unhealthy eating, smoking, or drinking habits.
Either way, it's not as if anyone is going to rush out and marry the first person they see based on this information. That's why these studies can be so frustrating. Presumably there's some scientific benefit to figuring out if marriage makes you healthier. However, when the stories are reported in the media, if often seems the only takeaway is that if you don't get married, you'll die alone, at an unusually early age, with no one but your cats to mourn your passing.
Social psychologist Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, tells MSNBC that too many studies on married versus single people are skewed by excluding information on widowed or divorced people. The relationships we have throughout our lives can't be easily categorized. Ultimately, whether or not you're legally bound to another human is only one of many factors that predict how long you'll live. It's probably most beneficial to your health to be happy with whatever situation you choose to be in, whether you're married, single and dating, or only interested in seeking companionship from your cats.
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