Marriage keeps men fit but boosts women’s mental health, according to an academic article.
A study published in the Student BMJ says that committed couples live longer than singletons, with the health benefits of companionship increasing over time.
Meanwhile having lots of sexual partners can shorten lifespan and divorce can have a devastating impact, the editorial claims.
But spouses benefit from marriage in different ways. Married men are kept physically fit because their wives ensure they lead a healthy lifestyle, while women’s emotional health benefits because they value being in a relationship.
David Gallacher, a trainee at University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, and John Gallacher, a reader at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, write: “Love is a voyage of discovery from dopamine drenched romance to oxytocin induced attachment. Making this journey can be fraught with hazards and lead many to question the value of romance and commitment.
“Nevertheless, the impact of stable long term exclusive relationships on longevity is well established. In a study of one billion person years across seven European countries the married persons had age adjusted mortality rates that were 10-15pc lower than the population as a whole. So, on balance, it probably is worth making the effort.”
They cite evidence that romances among teenagers are linked to “increased depressive symptoms”, while relationships among young adults do not improve physical health.
“So it seems that a degree of maturity is required before Cupid is likely to bring a net health benefit.”
The optimal time for women to establish a committed relationship in terms of health is said to be between 19 and 25, whereas for men it is after 25.
The students believe that being in a committed relationship leads to better social support – from one’s partner, their friends and family – which improves mental health and lifestyle choices.
Marriage is thought to provide the largest benefits, because it involves “deeper commitment” than merely living together.
Longer relationships are also said to lead to greater benefits to mental health and lower mortality rates.
On the different benefits received by brides and grooms, the authors write: “In terms of physical health, men benefit more from being in a relationship than women, but in terms of mental health women benefit more than men.
“The physical health premium for men is likely to be caused by their partner’s positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women may be due to a greater emphasis on the importance of the relationship in women.”
However they concede that “not all relationships are beneficial”, and it is better to be single than in a strained relationship.
Splitting up is distressing but less so for women, “because they have more supportive social networks”.
However the authors conclude: “Although failure of a relationship can harm health, that is an argument for avoiding a bad relationship rather than not getting into a relationship at all.”