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Harvard scholars: Marriage makes women happier and healthier

Married women ‘had lower risk of cardiovascular disease, less depression and loneliness, were happier and more optimistic, and had a greater sense of purpose and hope’

Marriage positively affects women’s mental and physical health, which can lead to long-term health benefits, according to a recent study published in the journal Global Epidemiology.

Led by a team of Harvard researchers, the study examined over 11,830 American female nurses who took different marital pathways and assessed how their lives turned out over a 25-year span.

It found that those who got married “had lower mortality, lower risks of cardiovascular diseases, greater psychological wellbeing and less psychological distress,” the study’s summary states.

Moreover, researchers found that those who got divorced or separated had “greater psychosocial distress, and possibly greater risks of mortality, cardiovascular diseases, and smoking.”

Ying Chen, a research associate with the Human Flourishing Program at the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science, told The College Fix in an email this week that “Marriage remains an important source of social support for many people.”

“Our results are consistent with the existing literature suggesting that, on average, [marriage] contributes to better health and wellbeing,” Chen said.

Chen and Brendan Case, associate director for research at Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program, co-authored a March 18 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that argued the trend toward a “post-nuptial society” should be given a critical eye based on their findings.

They wrote that their study controlled “for the nurses’ well-being and health in 1989, before any of them had gotten married, as well as for a host of other relevant factors, such as age, race and socioeconomic status.”

This ruled out that “happiness predicted marriage rather than being predicted by it, or that both happiness and marriage might be predicted by some hidden third factor,” they wrote.

“Our findings were striking,” they added. “The women who got married in the initial time frame, including those who subsequently divorced, had a 35% lower risk of death for any reason over the follow-up period than those who did not marry in that period.”

“Compared to those who didn’t marry, the married women also had lower risk of cardiovascular disease, less depression and loneliness, were happier and more optimistic, and had a greater sense of purpose and hope.”

The study’s summary points out that the “Health Protection Model posits that marriage may protect health and wellbeing through improving one’s financial stability, increasing social support, as well as enhancing adherence to social norms against risky behaviors via increased social control from the spouse and an enhanced sense of responsibility for the family.”

Though the study focused on women, long-term health benefits are not exclusive to them.

“The participants of the cohort that we examined were all female nurses. Therefore, we were not able to examine the associations among males in this study,” Chen told The College Fix. “The existing literature, however, suggests that some of the positive associations between marriage, health and wellbeing are likely stronger in men than women.”

“When opportunities arise, we are certainly interested in doing follow-up studies using data from more representative and diverse groups,” Chen said.

Asked to weigh in on the study’s results, The King’s College undergrad Emma Green — a recently engaged college student — told The College Fix she is not surprised. She said being in a healthy marriage with someone who is committed to loving their spouse, even at their worst, contributes to a sense of safety.

“I think we are meant to live in companionship, and since we live in an individualistic culture, we don’t live interdependently,” Green said. “Marriage is still the one thing you are supposed to live in an interdependent relationship, and I think that is good for people.”

MORE: Stanford Traditional Marriage Event Deemed ‘Hate Speech,’ Denied Funding

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About the Author
Esther Wickham -- The Kings College