PARIS: Even if marriages can be more of a bed of nails than roses, living into old age with a partner may help ward off heart ailments and strokes, researchers said Tuesday.
Farr’s was among the first scholarly works to suggest that there is a health advantage to marriage and to identify marital loss as a significant risk factor for poor health. Married people, the data seemed to show, lived longer, healthier lives.
“Marriage is a healthy estate,” Farr concluded. “The single individual is more likely to be wrecked on his voyage than the lives joined together in matrimony.”
While Farr’s own study is no longer relevant to the social realities of today’s world — his three categories exclude couples living together, gay couples and the divorced, for instance — his overarching finding about the health benefits of marriage seems to have stood the test of time.
Contemporary studies, for instance, have shown that married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer or have heart attacks. A group of Swedish researchers has found that being married or cohabiting at midlife is associated with a lower risk for dementia.
A study of two dozen causes of death in the Netherlands found that in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths like homicide and car accidents to certain forms of cancer, the unmarried were at far higher risk than the married.
A sweeping survey of research conducted over the last two decades, taking into account more than two million people aged 42 to 77 found that being hitched significantly reduced the risk of both maladies, they reported in the medical journal Heart.
The study examined ethnically varied populations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia, adding weight to the results.
Compared to people living in spousal union, the divorced, widowed or never married were 42% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and 16% more likely to have coronary heart disease, the study found.
The risk of dying was likewise elevated for the non-married, by 42 percent from coronary heart disease and by 55 percent from stroke.
The results were nearly the same for men and women, except for stroke, to which men were more susceptible.
“These findings may suggest that marital status should be considered in the risk assessment for cardiovascular disease,” concluded a team led by Chun Wai Wong, a researcher at Royal Stoke Hospital’s department of cardiology, in Stoke-on-Trent in Britain.
Four-fifths of all cardiovascular disease can be attributed to a proven set of “risk factors”: advanced age, being a man, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.
Marriage, in other words, could be an important share of the missing 20 percent.
More precisely, living together — with or without a wedding band — is probably the operative factor, if indeed conjugal status has any impact at all.
But most of the 34 studies reviewed by Wong and colleagues did not identify couples out of wedlock or same-sex unions, so it was not possible to know whether, statistically, such arrangements were the equivalent of being wed.
Because the study was observational rather than based on a controlled experiment — something scientists can do with mice but not humans — no clear conclusions could be drawn as to cause-and-effect.
That leaves open the question of why marriages may be “protective”.
“There are various theories,” the researchers said in a statement.
But while it’s clear that marriage is profoundly connected to health and well-being, new research is increasingly presenting a more nuanced view of the so-called marriage advantage.
Several new studies, for instance, show that the marriage advantage doesn’t extend to those in troubled relationships, which can leave a person far less healthy than if he or she had never married at all.
One recent study suggests that a stressful marriage can be as bad for the heart as a regular smoking habit. And despite years of research suggesting that single people have poorer health than those who marry, a major study released last year concluded that single people who have never married have better health than those who married and then divorced.
Having someone around to take care of one’s health problems and keep track of one’s meds is probably a plus, as are two incomes or pensions instead of one.
More intangibly, not living alone is thought to be good for morale, and for neural stimulation. People living in couples, earlier research has shown, also have lower rates of dementia.