In sickness and in health really counts in marriage, and a new study proves it should, because contrary to popular belief, it turns out married people are in worse health than when they were single, The New York Times reported.
For the study, published in Social Forces, sociologists took a 16-year survey of 11,000 Swiss adults, asking them to log their health and illnesses each year, on the assumption that married people would be healthier than when they were out there prowling for love. In theory, they’d get even healthier by being married over the long term. But they weren’t, and they didn’t. The Times writes:
People who married reported slightly worse health than they had when they were single. Over time, their health did not improve — it tended to deteriorate, even after taking into account changes in health as people age. On the measures of illness, marriage made no difference at all. People who married did not become any more or less ill than they were when they were single, and their level of illness did not change over the course of their marriage.
One, as the Times notes, this is, if nothing else, good news for single people, who can now enjoy a smug superiority all their own that they are just fine and even better by this metric. (Not to mention many others, like mattress space.)
As for married people, while this news seems like a big deal, slightly worse health or no health benefit is not exactly a death sentence. Yes, it’s a curious thing that marriage, something we imagine to be such a fundamental personal and societal good, is not the equivalent of a giant dose of Emergen-C for your life, but we’re also a species that believes in an exclusive utopian afterlife above the clouds.
And even though it’s important for us to dispel all the myths here — particularly when the only around half of these marriages will stick, anyway — it’s safe to say people aren’t getting married for the health protection.
People get married for plenty of reasons — money, sex, revenge, a New Year’s Eve date — but it’s safe to say that largely, it’s for the companionship. To have someone to go through this crazy thing together with, somebody who will often be a pain in your ass and the reason you are sick, either because they literally brought the flu home or wear you down just being themselves. Got kids? Start buying tissues in bulk. Still, better to have someone nearby to take care of you when that happens, even if they are, in fact, the reason it’s happening.
Which is why what people did report with marriage was greater life satisfaction. But not even a lot. Over time, that declined slowly. And if they got divorced, the negative effect was three times stronger than the impact of the original gain, according to the study authors.
“We speculate that marriage is primarily linked to a more positive evaluation of one’s life rather than to better health,” they write. That makes sense, because some 90 percent of people in Western society will marry by the time they are 50 years old. And in the end, being married feels good because you think it’s important and want to do it, so doing so makes you feel like you did the thing you wanted to do that you felt you should. What married people want, and what married people get, is not an immune boost, but simply not to be alone.