For long-term health and happiness, marriage is still important

At least one institution was well versed in cultural differences when 19th-century European travelers first encountered the Warlpiri of Australia’s outback or the Kalapalo of the Amazon basin. As in the West, life among the Warlpiri and Kalapalo is deeply embedded in marriage. In their own way, members of both communities strive to attract desirable partners and then raise children and build a life together. According to the anthropologist Joseph Heinrich, despite any important differences in culture, “marriage represents a keystone institution for most (not all) societies, and may be the most important of all human institutions.”

Marriage may be everywhere, but is it still important today? With safe contraception reducing sexual intercourse and women’s political and in some cases economic equality with men, perhaps marriage is now only an option, not the cornerstone of a successful life. Still, there are good reasons to question the benefits of post-marital society; Because compared to married or single or divorced people, the former are generally perceived to be healthier and happier than the latter, even today.

There are good reasons to question the benefits of post-marital community.

These early studies have been subject to some reasonable criticism. After all, how do we know that happy and healthy people aren’t more likely to get married in the first place? Can we be sure that the benefits of marriage outweigh the costs? A clear assessment of the choice to marry should factor in all risks (including divorce) and conditions (perhaps health and happiness) alongside the goods that marriage provides.

In a new study published in the journal Global Epidemiology, we and our collaborators attempted to address those criticisms. First, we examined 11,830 US nurses who were single and compared those who married between 1989 and 1993 with those who remained single. After nearly 25 years, we assessed how their lives fared on a range of important outcomes, including psychological well-being, health and longevity.

In most cases, we were able to control for nurses’ well-being and health in 1989, before any of them were married, as well as other relevant factors such as age, race, and socioeconomic status. This has helped us to rule out, for example, that happiness predicts marriage rather than marriage, or that both happiness and marriage may be predicted by some hidden third factor.

Married women had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and were happier and more optimistic.

Our discovery was amazing. Married women in the first period. Those who later divorced were 35% less likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period than those who were never married during that period. Compared to singles, married women also had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, less depression and loneliness, were happier and more optimistic, and had greater purpose and hope.

We also examined the effects of staying married and divorcing. Among those who were previously married at the start of the study, divorce was associated with worse health and well-being over time, including higher levels of loneliness and depression and lower levels of social integration. There was also strong evidence that divorced women were 19% more likely to die from any cause during the 25-year follow-up than married women. Depending on how many factors influence health and well-being (genes, diet, exercise, environment, social network, etc.), marriage can reduce 25-year mortality by more than a third, and divorce can increase it. Nearly a fifth—shows how important it is even to modern life.

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Our study sample population—predominantly white and relatively well-educated professional women who made marriage decisions in the early 1990s—limits the conclusions we can draw from it with confidence. For example, our all-female sample cannot tell us anything about the effect of marriage on men. More rigorous work in this area is needed, as previous studies have shown that marriage promotes longer life and health in men more than in women.

Nevertheless, our study’s focus on women provides important insights into the persistence of feminist critiques of marriage as an instrument of patriarchal hegemony. Other things being equal (which they rarely are), marriage – with all the support, friendship and love it provides – is still an essential part of a fulfilling life for many women. (This broader long-term benefit to the young institution of same-sex marriage also awaits further study.)

We also have to be careful in the generations. The Gen-Xers in our sample decided on or against marriage in a different cultural context than today’s young adults. For example, over the past 30 years, rules against cohabitation outside of marriage have been greatly relaxed. Recently, In 2001, Gallup found that only 53 percent of Americans believed that having sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable, but by 2021, that figure would be 76 percent. Our data cannot tell us how that shift has shaped the importance of marriage today, although recent studies have found that unmarried cohabiting couples typically report less happiness and relationship stability than married couples.

Given the enormous impact that marriage has on the health and well-being of our sample, it’s not surprising that it’s rapidly disappearing from American life. For example, in In 2021, the annual marriage rate will hit an all-time low of 28 marriages per 1,000 singles, down from 76.5 in 1965, a trend that reflects a rapid increase in cohabitation and a higher rate of single individuals. Likewise, the United States leads the world in the percentage of its children growing up in single-parent homes (23 percent in 2019, compared to 12 percent in Germany, for example). All of these trends are concentrated among poor Americans and people of color, who benefit most from the safety net provided by marriage.

The causes of marriage marginalization are complex, including not only cultural changes but also economic problems, particularly the declining earning power of less educated men, which even today greatly reduce their chances of marriage. However, it is clear that many of us today view marriage as an optional luxury rather than a necessary condition for having sex and raising children.

Our findings add to the already extensive body of literature demonstrating the benefits of marriage, and should serve as a wake-up call to society for denying this vital element of prosperity. What to do about the problem? One way is for politicians to implement and fund policies and interventions that promote healthy marriages. Another, and perhaps more important, point is that our cultural and economic elites should preach what they practice, namely, not only enjoy the benefits of marriage in their private lives, but also advocate for them in public. .

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