How does marriage affect our physical health?

by Rebecca Israel, MS, Sabrina Drumond, and Charles Li, MD

July 02, 2020

  • Never-married people have a 58% increased risk of all-cause mortality, specifically from heart disease, infections, and accidents.

  • Being widowed or divorced is also associated with an increased risk of death compared to married people.

  • Improvement and deterioration of marriage quality were associated with positive and negative physical health measures, respectively.

marriage and health title

Can someone really die of a broken heart? Are our emotions really influencing our physical well-being? These are questions that are highly debated in medical, psychological, and spiritual circles. Today’s researchers are still examining all the mind-body relationships. However, there is evidence of an association between marital status, marriage quality, mortality, and health biomarkers.

Marriage and survival

A sample from the National Health Interview Survey included 5,876 participants who died before 1997 and 61,123 who were known to be alive between 1989 and 1997.

Source: Marital status and longevity in the United States population

A sample from the National Health Interview Survey included 5,876 participants who died before 1997 and 61,123 who were known to be alive between 1989 and 1997. Researchers associated reported marital status and risk of mortality.

At the beginning of the study, 47.7% of participants were married, 9.9% widowed, 12.5% divorced, 3.5% separated, 5% living with a partner, 0.4% unknown marital status, and 21.0% had never been married.

The risk of death was associated with a 39% increase in widowed participants, a 27% increase in divorced participants, and a 58% increase in never-married participants. Never-married subjects had a significantly higher association with mortality by cardiovascular disease, infections diseases, and accidents.

Never-married subjects had a significantly higher association with mortality by cardiovascular disease, infections diseases, and accidents.

Marriage quality and physical health

To look at the physiological effects of relationship quality in marriage, a sample of 620 men from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were followed for nearly 19 years. At three main checkpoints, examiners measured relationship quality and physical health measures such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.

Improvement and deterioration of longitudinal relationship quality appear associated with respectively positive and negative associations with a range of CVD risk factors.

Source: Changes in marital quality over 6 years and its association with cardiovascular disease risk factors in men: findings from the ALSPAC prospective cohort study

Researchers found an association between the quality of marriage and physical health. Men whose relationships improved over the study period saw a decrease in body mass and low-density lipoproteins, or cholesterol that builds up in the arteries. Men whose relationships deteriorated over the study period saw an increase in diastolic blood pressure. These physical health measures are strongly associated with heart disease and other medical conditions.

key takeaways about the physical health benefits of marriage
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