Another Marriage Premium: Health and Longevity

Valentine’s Day is past but married sweethearts will continue enjoying the health benefits of married life.

That is the conclusion of a study on the health impacts of marriage in Norway and reviewed in the journal The Family in America.

The blessing of long life seems to be especially reserved for married men and women. Fresh evidence that wedlock protects and extends life appears in a study by health economist Kjersti Norgård Berntsen of the University of Oslo. By sifting through data collected between 1964 and 2007 for elderly Norwegians (ages 75 to 89), Berntsen identifies a solid linkage between marital status and longevity. In the age group under scrutiny, the researcher finds, “Relative to married persons, those who are never married, divorced or widowed have significantly higher mortality for most causes of death. The odds of death are highest for divorcees, followed by never married and widowed.”

These findings, Berntsen recognizes, are hardly surprising; rather, they accord with “previous research [that] has shown large and increasing relative differences in mortality by marital status in several countries.” To explain this pervasive pattern, Berntsen invokes the “protective effects of marriage.” These effects, she reasons, may reflect the way “married persons are likely to benefit from various types of support “ and from the way “a spouse may exert control on behavior, offer practical help, add to the pool of knowledge and help in interpreting important information.” Further health benefits may, she suggests, spring from the way marriage confers “an economic advantage because of specialization, economies of scale and pooling of wealth.” In any case, wedlock does seem to prevent “the occurrence of a number of potentially lethal diseases.”

Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Summer 2011, Vol. 25 Number 3. Study: Kjersti Norgård Berntsen, “Trends in Total and Cause–Specific Mortality by Marital Status among Elderly Norwegian Men and Women,” BMC Public Health 11 [July 6, 2011]: 537.)

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