Who Says Marriage Has Anything to Do with Health?

August 23, 2020

 

The COVID-19 pandemic causes many of us to think about our health, even if we feel great and are in good shape. 

What does marriage have to do with this? Well, if not a vaccine against COVID-19, marriage keeps being mentioned as a miraculous cure for almost all problems in life, including physical ones. One of the leading claims of marriage's proponents is that being married is beneficial to one’s health.

However, although every relationship is different and there are still mixed findings in this field, there are some positive impacts being single has on one's health and some surprising results have been found in this regard.

What Does Research Say?

Recent studies show that the marriage/single divide is more complicated than we tend to think. One study, for example, shows that continuously single women were found to report fewer sick bed days and doctor appointments than divorced, separated, widowed women and, yes, currently married people. What matters, this study argues, is whether you have people around, regardless of your marital status. 

In terms of exercise, another study found that always single Americans spend more time working out on average than divorced, separated, currently married, and widowed people.

It also turns out that singles have a lower possibility of gaining weight. One study that used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979), which has followed individuals for more than 20 years, shows that marriage is associated with a modest increase in BMI for all race and gender groups. 

A six-year follow-up of more than 11,000 individuals shows that transitioning from being single to getting married doubled the risk of becoming obese over those who remained single. Another longitudinal national study among 9,043 adults using the US National Health and Nutrition Epidemiological Follow-up Survey (NHEFS) measured adults in a baseline assessment and reassessed them again in a follow-up approximately 10 years later. This study also shows that unmarried women who married gained more weight than women married at both times.

In addition, research conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, a social science research organization, compared 4,500 people across Europe in 2015. Their findings suggested that married people, on average, have higher body mass indices and weigh approximately five pounds more than single people.

Finally, my own analysis of the European Social Survey shows that singles eat more fruits and vegetables than their married peers and this is true for the never married, divorced, and widowed groups.

Why Being Single May Make You Healthier

One plausible reason for singles being healthier is because couples who are satisfied and secure no longer feel the pressure to attract new partners and keep in good shape. Oftentimes, under our culture, marriage is an end goal and married people simply give up on taking care of themselves.

Another reason is dietary changes following partner influence. If one partner is having a heavy dinner, the other partner is tempted to join in despite his or her stomach's will.

Furthermore, singles have more leisure time in general and hence are more likely to be physically active. While married people are focused inwards toward their families, singles are often occupied in nurturing their hobbies, which include many sports activities.  

Exercising is also instrumental in increasing mental health as studies have shown that regular exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve one's mood. Regular exercise also helps to reduce stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Having friends around is also beneficial and singles actually excel in being social. My studies, for example, show that, on average, singles have a wider net of friends and participate in more social activities. Thus, having a wide circle of friends might have a greater impact on your health as socializing is not only fun, but actually makes you smarter, improves your memory, and can even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.   

Finally, a night of good sleep is vital in all aspects of human health. Couples might have different preferences such as different room temperature and different bedtimes. These preferences have been found to make it difficult for the partners to adapt, which in turn makes them sleep-deprived. Singles are thus also likely to sleep better than some couples, especially if the couple has different sleeping habits.

Therefore, it seems that although society has always painted the idea that marriage is the key to health and happiness, being single nowadays has some advantages. We must rid ourselves of the outdated thought that marriage is the only path to enjoying good health.

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