Despite the grumbly water-cooler comments sometimes spewed about spouses, the fact is… most still do it (marry, that is). Why? Some of the obvious benefits include things like: built-in best friend for life (um, awesome!), built-in nookie for life (um, awesomer!), an automatic fan-club member and cool tax benefits. Once married, people learn pretty quickly that it takes work to keep all of the above perks – well – “percolating.” And research suggests there’s a good reason to do so. In a literature review of epic proportions (ninety-nine published studies!) discussed by researchers Waite and Lehrer and available in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health database, the following topics were explored in relationship to marriage:
Waite and Lehrer found that “one of the strongest, most consistent benefits of marriage is better physical health and its consequence, longer life.” More specifically, these authors’ plunge into the research regarding marriage and its benefits revealed that married people are less likely than unmarried people to suffer from long-term illnesses or disabilities. They also have better survival rates for certain illnesses. Married folk experience – overall – fewer physical problems and a lowered risk of death from certain causes (especially those with a behavioral component).
Per the in-depth lit review, a longitudinal analysis found that married individuals actually live longer overall than non-married couples! The difference is slight for married and non-married females, but more pronounced when it comes to males (with thirty percent more married men than singles surviving to the age of 65)!
Is it really true? Tying the knot can make us happier? Yep. While people conjecture that marriage (okay, and maybe having children) makes you actually go a little crazy, recent studies suggest that getting (and staying) married is associated with better mental health. In the last decade especially, research reveals improvements in emotional well-being following marriage, and emotional declines following the end of a marriage. And it’s not mostly women or mostly men that are positively impacted by tying the knot. Saying “I do” affects men and women in the same positive way (though we ladies tend to take the breakup of a marriage a little harder).
It’s no big surprise, then, that literature reveals marriage is also associated with greater overall happiness. In an analysis of information gathered from the General Social Surveys of 1972–96 (other factors accounted for), a substantially greater amount of married people reported being happy with life in general – in contrast to their counterparts, the singles out there.
Naw… (really?) Yes, sirree. A great amount of literature documents that “married men earn higher wages than their single counterparts. This differential, known as the ‘marriage premium,’ is sizable” (at 11 percent in America). You might be thinking “duh. When two people come together, of course they’ll be wealthier.” The research cant’ be so easily dismissed… because the authors thought of that! The research accounts for combining household incomes and refers only to separate salaries. Still, individual married people are found to make significantly bigger bucks than single people.
It’s not just husbands and wives who benefit from marriage, either. If Mom and Dad are healthier, happier and a little bit wealthier, it’s not rocket science that this translates to the babes. According to the literature, children raised by their own married parents do better, on average, across a range of things, than children who grow up in another type of living environment. Children in intact families are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to complete greater years of schooling, and are less likely to have a child as an unmarried teenager.
Not so surprisingly, children who grow up in intact, two-parent households also tend to have better mental health than their counterparts who have experienced a parental divorce. In fact:
Using 17-year longitudinal data from two generations, Amato and Sobolewski (2001) find that the weaker parent–child bonds that result from marital discord mediate most of the association between divorce and the subsequent mental health outcomes of children… However, the authors also find that the gap continues to widen following the divorce, suggestive of a causal effect of family breakup on mental health. Summing up his assessment of the studies in this field, Cherlin (1999) concludes that growing up in a nonintact family can be associated with short- and long-term problems, partly attributable to the effects of family structure on the child’s mental health, and partly attributable to inherited characteristics and their interaction with the environment.
Contrary to popular belief that marriage has a somewhat dampening effect on an otherwise sizzling sex life: A review of current literature actually reveals quite the opposite – that overall emotional and physical satisfaction with sex are higher for married people and lower for “non-cohabiting” singles, with “cohabiters” falling smack in between. This suggests that shacking up, either by living together or (better yet) in a marital setting leads to better sexy time!
According to Waite and Lehrer’s review, the root claim to the benefits of marriage flows as follows:
Marriage implies love, intimacy, and friendship. The social integration and support it thus provides is a key channel through which it leads to improved mental and physical health. Being married means having someone who can provide emotional support on a regular basis, thereby decreasing depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems, and improving overall mental health. In turn, better emotional well-being contributes to enhanced physical wellness. Support from the spouse can also improve physical health directly, by aiding early detection and treatment and by promoting speedier recovery from illness (Ross et al. 1990).
And, from the perspective of children, the mutual help that parents give to each other is largely the reason that children who grow up in married and intact households due better in the measures mentioned. In addition to providing more mutual support to spouses, Waite and Lehrer’s review found that “marriage connects people to other individuals, other social groups (e.g., in-laws), and other social institutions (Stolzenberg et al. 1995; Waite 1995)… This integration into a wider social network has additional positive effects on both spouses and on their children.”
This huge research review, in concert with a much greater body of evidence out there, claims even more benefits from marriage than the ones mentioned here. All that being said, marriage may not be for everyone, and we’re not suggesting that Great Aunt Sally take a printout of Waite and Lehrer’s literature review or this blog article to the Christmas family gathering as evidence Johnny and Susan should get married immediately. What we are suggesting is that it’s not just us who believe that marriage is an awesome “institution.” Lots of research out there backs us when we say: There are a lot of great reasons to make your marriage the very best it can be, starting right now.