Marriage Linked To Better Midlife Survival
January 11, 2013

Married Baby Boomers Live Longer Than Their Single Counterparts

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Duke University recently conducted a study that showed that marriage is associated with better survival during midlife, highlighting the advantages of continuing social relationships throughout middle age.

The team of investigators was interested in looking at the impact of marriage history and timing of marriage in regards to premature death during midlife. They also observed the effect of pre-marital personality along with health behaviors.

"Our results suggest that attention to non-marital patterns of partnership is likely to become more important for these Baby Boomers. These patterns appear to provide different levels of emotional and functional social support, which has been shown to be related to mortality. Social ties during midlife are important to help us understand premature mortality," noted the authors of the paper in a prepared statement.

The research project included data from 4,802 individuals who participated in the University of North Carolina´s Alumni Heart Study. With this ongoing study of people born in the 1940s, the researchers wanted to find out more about stability and the change in patterns in either marital or non-marital status.

The scientists discovered that having a partner during middle age actually worked as a defense mechanism against premature death. In particular, individuals who had never married had more than double the likelihood of dying early than their counterparts who were married as adults. During middle age, individuals who were single or who had lost their partner indefinitely had an increased likelihood of early death or decreased likelihood of sustaining throughout old age.

Other studies in the past have also looked at the impact of marriage on longevity. A past study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in 2008 and conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, and George Washington looked at the associated health benefits of close social relationships and marriage on individuals. They particularly focused their research on the psychological and cardiovascular health linked with marriage and close social relationships.

In the project, the researchers found that blood pressure level is lower for happily married adults than single adults who are part of supportive social networks.

“There seem to be some unique health benefits from marriage,” explained Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of Brigham Young University, in a prepared statement. “It´s not just being married that benefits health - what´s really the most protective of health is having a happy marriage.”

204 married adults and 99 single adults participated in the study by wearing portable blood pressure monitors. The monitors tracked their blood pressure at random points throughout the day, with measurements completed approximately 72 times in the study period. The single adults involved in the study also provide information on their social networks and answered questions regarding the quality of the relationships, while married individuals filled out questionnaires about the quality of the relationship with their partner.

“We wanted to capture participants´ blood pressure doing whatever they normally do in everyday life,” continued Holt-Lunstad, a researcher who studies health and relationships, in the statement. “Getting one or two readings in a clinic is not really representative of the fluctuations that occur throughout the day.”

Based on the findings, the researchers believe that spouses help increase healthy habits and the relationship provides emotional support through both rough and joyous occasions.

The study was recently published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.