Intuitively, the most likely reason that women’s health seems to vary less with marital status would seem to be that women tend to have stronger social networks than men. Social support is one of the most compelling explanations for why there might be a health gain from marriage at all. If women get a boost anyway from their friends, then being married matters less.
The study is good. It would have been very interesting indeed had it found huge differences. But it didn’t. The differences are pretty marginal and relate to things way above my grade called ‘fibinogens‘ and ‘hemostatic biofunction markers‘, whatever they are
But does any of this really matter anyway? Is an improvement in health – or lack of it – a good reason for being a fan of marriage – or not?
It’s definitely the case that some supporters of marriage bang the drum on the basis that married people tend to be happier, healthier and wealthier, and live longer. I’m not one of them. I won’t turn down a study that produces these findings! I just don’t think they are the big deal. In any case, it’s a research nightmare trying to disentangle all the other effects of daily life and the characteristics of who marries and who doesn’t. Do happy & healthy people marry or does marriage make people happy & healthy? You know the story.
For me, the important issue about marriage is about staying together. If you get married, you’re much more likely to stay together. Full stop. That’s good for the parents. Most importantly, it’s good for the children.
There’s a sea of evidence that children do better if they are brought up by two parents rather than one. Two parents means two pairs of hands, more resources of time and money, and the influence of both father and mother. Parents are much more likely to stay together as a couple if they married before the child was born.
Our recent research showed that among mothers of 15 year olds, 24% of couples who were married before their child was born had split up, 56% of couples who had married after their child was born had split up, and 69% of couples who had never married had also split. Age and education did not account for these differences.
This is the huge gap on which we should be concentrating.
It may well be the case that parents’ health or wealth or happiness or longevity is materially improved by getting married and staying married. But that’s a bonus at best and not the point anyway.
Couples tend to stay together if they get married and tend not to if they don’t. That’s what really matters.