Friday, December 26, 2008

Men's Health Boost from Marriage Disappearing

A news story from PsyBlog - some thoughts below.

Men's Health Boost from Marriage Disappearing

Man wearing ring

Time was that the persistently single male was seen as an unhealthy lump, prone to nightly feastings on pizza and beer - probably destined for an early grave because of his unhealthy lifestyle and poor social integration. Marriage or cohabitation, though, would soon give this slob an ordered life with plentiful social and psychological support and therefore a longer lifespan.

Or so the story goes.

New research by Hui Liu and Debra Umberson published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, suggests this story may be changing. Liu and Umberson looked at self-reported health data obtained as part of a huge US survey from over 1 million participants. They were interested in seeing how the relationship between marital status and health had changed between 1972 and 2003.

What they found was that the health gap between married men and men who had never been married narrowed in this 30-year period. By 2003 there was very little difference in health status between unmarried and married men. It seems that marriage no longer confers the same health benefits on men that it once did.
The authors of the study suggest an economic explanation for the narrowed health gap:
They find that in the 31 years of the study there had been a relative decline in family income for whites (but not for African Americans) in US. This ties in with the modern idea that the economic benefits of marriage are now much less pronounced than they once were.
But I disagree. They also acknowledge that there is more social support and acceptance for single men, which is closer to what I think is happening.

My guess is that both of the researcher's points have merit, but I suspect that single men are simply taking better care of themselves physically - working out, eating better, and not isolating themselves. And why? Because there are many more single women across the age span than there was in 1972.

Many more women get married later, or get divorced earlier, which allows for single men to stay "in the game," even after their twenties, the age when most men were married if they were going to marry in the 60's and 70's.

So, as usual, I think it is a combination of things (multiple quadrants in integralese), and not just one thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And why shouldn't the health boost disappear? I have long been skeptical about people telling me that married men live longer than single men. The first one who told me that was gray-haired and in his 30s and the father of seven children. He had a pot-belly. Obviously sedentary.

Twenty-five years later at the age of 50 I still have a full head of brown hair, I'm slim, muscular, do not overdrink (don't get drunk), I work out regularly in the early morning, and I eat healthy food. I don't smoke. And I'm single. Younger women have told me I look as though I'm in my late 30s. This is all due to me choosing a healthy lifestyle. I took a few chances like a single guy would (unprotected sex, had some drinking binges in my early 30s), but I survived them and I'm mature. Plus by staying single, I did not have a spouse to cajole me into buying an overpriced house in the real estate bubble or to get a fancy car. My net worth is over $1 million.