The health of people who never marry is improving, narrowing the gap with their wedded counterparts, according to new research that suggests the practice of encouraging marriage to promote health may be misguided.
Further, the research shows that the health status of the never-married has improved for all race and gender groups examined: men, women, blacks and whites. (The health of married women also improved, while the health of married men remained stable.)
“Politicians and scholars continue to debate the value of marriage for Americans,” the researchers write in the study, “with some going so far as to establish social programs and policies to encourage marriage among those socials groups less inclined to marry, particularly the poor and minorities.”
But the research findings “highlight the complexity of this issue” and suggest that “encouraging marriage in order to promote health may be misguided.”
(Unfortunately, I don’t yet have free access to the actual journal article, so I am relying on press releases…)
News reports on the study differ in their take of the results: While some emphasize that marriage isn’t necessary to remain healthy, others still try to use it as encouragement for marriage. Yet, despite their headline, the news story admits that the changes in marital behavior had a positive impact on health of never-married people.
What is not clear from the news articles is whether the researchers distinguished between never-married singles and cohabiting people – both are unmarried. Cohabitation has increased and is widely viewed as an acceptable alternative to marriage. If, as Liu asserts, never-marrieds have “greater access to social support now than they did in the past” and that is an important reason for these findings, cohabitation would need to be factored into the equation.
Even with this caveat, the overall research finding is positive: We can be healthy no matter what our relationship status. And even though most of us singles and unmarrieds knew that, we now have the data to support the claim.
(Hat tip to Brian for pointing me to this study!)