December 16, 2004

Fit to Be Married

I knew there was at least one more advantage to marriage that I had not yet realized.

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that married couples are healthier than single people.

Given how heavily the social divisions between married and single people figure into Sex and the City storylines or the plots of so-called "Chick-Lit" books, I'm sure that right now much of the blogosphere is echoing with familiar rants about "smug marrieds" and their claims to better health over "singletons."

But the fact that married people are generally healthier than their single counterparts should be obvious to any person who has ever turned to a friend and asked, "Does my breath stink?" Having someone around all the time can oftentimes prevent health problems from setting in. (When L's osteoporosis is staved off by a few years, I'm hoping she'll thank me for nagging her to take her calcium chews.)

The study did not talk about it, but I'm sure single people are, unfortunately, disproportionately represented in the ranks of the uninsured, another factor that might contribute to the disparity. If I were to lose my health insurance, I could always sign up for my wife's plan. Only in states with very loosely defined domestic partnership laws would a single person be able to do that.

There's a social advantage as well. If I got sick, having someone to look after me and take care of life's little stresses - running errands, paying bills - would certainly speed my convalescence. It's not that single people wouldn't have friends to help them in such a situation, but the kind of responsibility L and I have to each other is different that of two college buddies.

The NCHS noted that married people were less likely to drink and smoke than single people, to which I say, "Thank you, Dr. Obvious!" While L and I might enjoy a glass of wine at home or out at dinner, knocking back cocktails at a singles bar is no longer part of our weekly routine.

Even so, no one should put too much stock in the study. For example, the study noted that divorced or separated adults had high rates of poor health (16.6 percent). But are they unhealthy because they got divorced or did poor health - brought on by drug or alcohol abuse or some other problem - lead them to divorce?

And, alas, even walking down the aisle has its disadvantages. Married men, according to the study of more than 125,000 people, tend to pack on few more pounds than their single counterparts.

Posted by Doug at December 16, 2004 10:48 AM

If I heard it right on the radio, married men are healthier when they are younger and the gap closes as age increase. So maybe it's not about disease but about injury. "You are NOT going to play touch football with your college drinking buddies!" is the surest way to protect a spouse against knee and other injuries.

Posted by: FOG at December 18, 2004 07:06 AM