A number of recent studies have looked into the impact of marital status on a person’s health. The findings from these studies have led researchers to draw a number of interesting conclusions.
Married people are healthier
According to a University of Missouri study, marriage has a positive impact on health, with married couples reporting better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers. In addition, married couples show fewer signs of developing chronic medical conditions than individuals who are divorced or widowed.
Interestingly, the study also found that as couples get older, they are more likely to feel positive about their health if they are in a happy marriage.
Couples should engage with their partner
This led key researcher, Christine Proulx, to conclude that married people suffering health problems might find it beneficial to work on improving the status of their marriage.
"We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age," explained Proulx.
"Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people's spirits and well-being and lower their stress," she added.
The study looked at the long-term relationship between self-rated health and marital quality, and found that in all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect the individuals’ health.
Proulx therefore advised that partners should be aware that how they treat each other and how happy they are in their marriages can have an impact on both partners’ health. She also suggested that her research could be of use to health professionals, who might find it beneficial to take into account patients’ personal relationships when designing treatment plans.
A different study has looked at how the health of same-sex cohabiting couples differs from that of married heterosexual couples.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that same-sex cohabiting couples reported having poorer levels of health compared to heterosexual married couples of similar socioeconomic status.
According to lead investigator, Hui Liu, this difference could be because same-sex couples don’t have access to the social, psychological and institutional resources that come with legal marriage. The high levels of stress experienced by same-sex couples as a result of homophobia and discrimination could also be a contributing factor.
Legalising same-sex marriage
Hui Liu acknowledged that the research did not directly assess the potential health consequences of legalising same-sex marriage, but commented that it was plausible that allowing same-sex couples to legally wed could improve their health.
“Legalising same-sex marriage,” Liu said, “could provide the benefits associated with marriage – such as partner health-insurance benefits and increased social and psychological support – which may directly and indirectly influence the health of people in same-sex unions.”