Is Marriage Actually Good for Your Health?

A new study says maybe so, but we still have thoughts

Happy groom piggybacking bride in vineyard during sunset
Science says that men are lonelier than women, which explains why a lifelong partner could be beneficial.
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It may come as a shock to anyone who’s lived through a messy divorce, but researchers at the University of Colorado have found a possible correlation between lifelong bachelorhood and increased rates of mortality from heart failure. After analyzing data from 6,800 American adults between the ages of 45 and 84 while tracking the survival rates of 94 participants with heart failure during a 10-year period, they found that men who never married were twice as likely to die from their heart condition within five years of a diagnosis than married or previously married men, or women of any marital status. 

Lots of questions remain — like do these findings include Brad Pitt after his custody battle? — but experts suggest there are multiple reasons why marriage could be a literal life-saver. A spouse might be able to assist with access to caregivers or adhering to medication and can monitor changes in behavior like diet and exercise. There are also emotional elements of a marriage that aren’t often thought of as wellness per se but do have serious impacts on overall health, like the social interaction and familiarity that spouses share.

But before you unleash your inner Gollum and jump to conclusions about the immortal powers of the ring, surely it’s not just a marriage certificate that gives us death-defying powers. Considering how this study found heart failure to be more than two times as fatal for unmarried men as it is for women, single or otherwise, the findings might say more about masculinity and its toxicity than it says about the institution of marriage.

Numerous studies have shown that men are really lonely. They’re less likely to have close relationships, platonic or romantic, than women. A 2021 survey found 21% of men received emotional support from a friend within the past week, compared to 41% of women, and nearly twice as many young men identify as single compared to young women. Men are socialized to believe they rely less on community and the help of others, but that isn’t really true. In reality, one of two things often happens: either women end up absorbing a lot of the unseen labor that men shrug off, or, if this heart failure study is any indication, men die.  

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Marriage isn’t right for everyone, and it’s not a one-way ticket to the fountain of youth. Socialization, community and a sense of interconnectedness are all important factors of happiness and health. So instead of relying on marriage to keep us healthy, and especially on spouses to perform the unpaid labor of caretaking, wouldn’t it be best if we equipped everyone with the emotional intelligence, self-awareness and infrastructure to monitor and advocate for their own health?

Heart failure, which occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump blood effectively, is a leading cause of cardiovascular death and currently affects more than six million people in the United States, according to the American College of Cardiology. The researchers from the University of Colorado recommend patients discuss their home life and relationship status with health care providers to assess certain risks associated with the condition.

Even Katarina Leyba, the study’s lead author, said, “As clinicians, we need to think about our patients not just in terms of their medical risk factors, but also the context of their life.”

Maybe intimacy in its myriad forms is the key to life; maybe the Wife Guys had it right all along. All I know is now that a wedding might be truly life or death, it’s time for The Bachelor to take a page or two from The Hunger Games.

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