The equation between marriage, love and happiness has never more complex than what with the framework of entire social institutions changing rapidly. Many people now find love without getting married while many marriages turn loveless and hostile as divorce rates soar. Single parenting is increasingly becoming common, and society is now more comfortable with various patterns of cohabitation. In such a context, what are the chances that married men live longer?
Benefits of marriage on health
A major survey of 127,545 American adults quoted in a Harvard journal1 found that married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood. Men who have marital partners also live longer than men without spouses and in fact the longer a man stays married, the greater his survival advantage over his unmarried peers.
An important reason for this could be that married men are less likely to suffer from the debilitating effects of loneliness which in turn leads to depression and early death. Men living with spouses are less likely to be lonely and more engaged in social as well as family relationships. However critics questions whether the institution of marriage is specifically linked to better health, or is it simply a question of living with another person? 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.
Even more definite benefits come from the association of marriage and cardiovascular health. Japanese scientists reported that never-married men were three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than married men. And a report from the Framingham Offspring Study also suggests that marriage is truly heartwarming. Scientists evaluated 3,682 adults over a 10-year period. Even after taking major cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body fat, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol into account, married men had a 46% lower rate of death than unmarried men. Coronary artery disease and hypertension are among the most important causes of heart failure, a chronic disabling condition that results when the weakened heart muscle is unable to pump all the blood that the body's tissues need. But even after this serious problem has developed, a supportive marriage is associated with improved survival.
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The clearly established links between stress, depression, social isolation, and heart disease may make it natural to conclude that a good marriage might protect the heart but cancer is a different matter. While being married does not significantly reduce chances of developing a cancer, the quality of life for a cancer patient is certainly better if he is married. For example, a study of 27,779 cancer cases mentioned in the Harvard report found that unmarried individuals were more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than married persons. Also unmarried patients were less likely to receive treatment than married patients. And even for those who received cancer therapy, marriage was linked to improved survival. Patients with supportive marriages were found to have better survival rates when cancer was diagnosed as compared to patients who are separated at the time of diagnosis. In another study scientists from the University of Miami investigated 143,063 men with prostate cancer. Over a 17-year period, married men survived far longer – with a median 69 months - than separated and widowed patients – who had a median of 38 months. Men who had never married had an intermediate survival rate of 49 months. The findings were further affirmed by researchers from Harvard and UCLA after they identified similar survival benefits for married patients with bladder cancer, a predominantly male disease.
Common sense suggests that married men may live longer simply because their wives nag them to visit their doctors in case of a troubling symptom. This the crux of a 2010 article in The Daily Mail2 according to which social scientists believe that married men were 6 per cent more likely to go to the doctor than single men who had no one to tell them they needed a check-up. The results were gleaned from a study, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Surrey. The study also found women were 34 per cent more likely to keep fit through regular exercise in a relationship, and men were 20 per cent more likely to go out for a run once a week if they were married. Interestingly though women were just as likely to go to the doctor, whether they were single or married.
Marriage not really beneficial
However critics of the notion that married men live longer, are quick to pick up many loopholes in the theory. First of all they question whether it is actually the institution of marriage that confers health benefits on men or the companionship and support that can be found in any long-term cohabiting relationship. According to such critics, the difference between marriage and cohabitation is merely a legal one, which by itself is unlikely to confer concrete health benefits on men.
Then again as social psychologist Bella dePaulo, Ph.D., , author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, points out, proponents of the theory that married men live longer convenient base their findings on comparisons with widowed and divorced men as though the last two groups had never been married at all. The implication of the popular notion is that once married, men would have to stay that way in order to live longer. This is especially problematic in case of troubled marriages where the stress and anxiety of marital unhappiness can actually be a factor in depression, ill-health and death as compared to men who may be divorced by stress-free and happy. in fact unhappiness and stress in marital life have been linked to an important cardiac risk factor, hypertension. Over time, in fact, marital stress is associated with thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber, even though comparative stress in professional life does not take a similar toll on the heart – all this only goes to prove that an unhappy marriage can be equally inimical to a man’s welfare as singlehood is purported to be.
Even a relatively newer study3 which pointed out that single people are likely to die sooner than their married counterparts admitted that singles who survive their younger years actually fare well over a lifespan. The relative risk of death for singles aged 30 to 39-years-old was 128 percent greater than among married people of the same age, but decreased to about 16 percent for single 70-year-olds when compared to 70-year olds in wedded bliss, according to the study.
Finally it all boils down to the quality of life one has – this would include dietary habits, exercise, addictions, supportive relationships apart from the level of medical and hospice care available in a society which truly determine male longevity.