Research Shows Happy Marriages Are Good for Health, Especially for Men
- High stress levels were best predictor of divorce.
- 75% of those who died during sex were in an extramarital affair.
- Men in good marriages had fewer illnesses than wives did.
- Wives in bad marriages had more illnesses than husbands did.
The notion that marriage is good for your health received a recent boost from a 20 year longitudinal study of 90 married couples by researchers at Ohio State University. Professor Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and her colleagues at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine found that married couples who reported low levels of stress were less prone to illness than those who had conflict ridden marriages. The key to these results may lie in the effects of conflict on the immune system. The researchers reasoned that positive marital relations help people avoid stress. This means that marriage partners produce lower levels of the stress-related hormones, such as cortisol. Earlier research by the Ohio State group demonstrated that for long-term married people, lower cortisol levels correlated with lower risks of infectious diseases and possibly cancer.
Interestingly, when the couples in the present study were re-interviewed after 10 years, the researchers found that those who previously had higher levels of stress related hormones were more likely to get divorced (19%). In fact, having high stress levels was the best predictor of divorce. (Whether the partners gained in health as a result of divorcing remains an open question.)
Do husbands and wives benefit equally from a good marriage? The answer seems to be “no.” Men with good marriages had fewer illnesses than their wives. At the same time, among couples with bad marriages, the wives had more illnesses than the husbands.
Being married also has social benefits for both men and women. As Robert Johnson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Miami put it, “Marriage or being in a romantic relationship is a highly valued social status, so it will make people feel good about themselves because of the value society places on it.” At the same time, extra-marital sex may be life threatening. Kiecolt-Glaser cited a British study from 2002 that indicated that risk of heart attack during sex was lower for married couples than others. In fact, 75% of those who died during sex were engaged in an extramarital affair. Professor Kiecolt-Glaser suggested that sex itself is usually a mild form of exercise, but illicit sex may be stressful.Source: Why a Good Marriage is Good – for Heart and Health by Howard Cohen,
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 27, 2005, pg. M2.