Married men live longer


Marriage breakup has real health risks for both men and women, but especially for men.

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada released the results of a major longitudinal study showing that the breakup of a marriage creates a disproportionate risk of depression for men. Our editorial board received the findings from the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) with a distinct lack of surprise. The married men agreed that their daily lives would go straight to the gutter almost immediately without a woman in the house to keep their worst bachelor tendencies ( junk food, late-night roistering, video games, “adult” diversions, etc.) in check, and the single men quietly acknowledged that they do, in fact, more or less live in hell already. Freedom from marital burdens, it seems, just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Divorce or separation is obviously no picnic for women either: In the study, a breakup tripled their risk of experiencing a bout of depression (under a definition that meets the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-III) within the next two years. But for men, the odds increased by a factor of six.

The finding of an unusually strong psychological effect of divorce on men is one that many other researchers have arrived at in many different countries. Some are likely to blame our system of family law, which imposes harsh burdens on non-custodial parents and guarantees that most of them are men. The NPHS figures confirm that 34% of men who were involved in a breakup reported a departure of children from their household; only 3% of women did. Women were considerably more likely to suffer a substantial loss of income as a result of a divorce or separation, by a margin of 43% to 15%, but the survey period reaches back before the 1997 changes in tax law that allowed custodial parents to cease reporting child support as income (though we’re not sure what it is, if it’s not income) and forced non-custodial parents to stop deducting it. Those changes were intended to close that gap, but it continues to receive more attention from policymakers and judges, on the whole, than the mass alienation of non-custodial fathers from their kids.

On the whole, the evidence suggests that being single is probably worse for a man’s life expectancy than moderate cigarette smoking.

What is interesting, though, is that men remain worse off even when economic and social factors like these are corrected for. The Statscan boffins cancelled out every external factor they could think of — income, presence of children, self-reported “social support,” employment status, education, age, prior history of depression — and men still came out slightly worse off, with a relative depression risk of 3.3 compared to women’s 2.4. This may serve to confirm one of the strongest overall findings in contemporary social science: namely, that marriage has a myriad of core mental and physical health benefits for men in particular.

One U.S. study found that nine out of 10 married men alive at age 48 would still be alive at 65, but that of 10 single men, only six would live to see their first pension cheque. The suicide rate among married men is about half that of never-marrieds and one third that of divorcees. A new Japanese study tracked nearly 100,000 people aged 40-79 for 10 years and found that nevermarried men were, quite simply, twice as likely to be dead at the end of the decade. On the whole, the evidence suggests that being single is probably worse for a man’s life expectancy than moderate cigarette smoking.

The underlying reasons for this are almost too obvious to be controversial, and may be related to the psychological effects (post-partum depression?) seen by Statscan. Men, left alone, take worse care of themselves. They drink more and exercise less; they visit the doctor for checkups less often; they have no immediate help on hand if they get meningitis or fall off a roof; and if they do need hospital care, there may be no one to advocate for them amongst busy doctors and nurses. Hey, guys: anyone out there still afraid of commitment?


The editors, "Married men live longer." National Post, (Canada) May 25, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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