On top of lifelong love and commitment (and license to pee with the door open), marriage has long been thought to bring better health, too. But this week The Wall Street Journal reported on research that suggests couples who live together—without the ceremony or the rings—may actually be healthier than couples who’ve officially tied the knot.
“A lot of the previous research has suggested that a marriage is the best thing since sliced bread,” Jennifer Kohn, PhD, an assistant professor of economics and business at Drew University, told the WSJ. Studies have linked marriage with a long list of benefits, including reduced risk of heart attack, more life satisfaction, and longevity.
But Kohn and her colleague Susan Averett, PhD, an economics professor at Lafayette University, decided to investigate further, by studying data from a large, comprehensive health survey of more than 8,000 men and 10,000 women in the U.K. (Using data from the U.K., where people have access to universal healthcare, allowed the researchers to avoid the effects of disparities in health insurance found in U.S. samples.)
What they discovered is encouraging, especially since a record number of American adults aren’t hitched, and more and more couples are choosing to raise their kids outside of marriage. For all age groups, cohabitation was just as good as marriage for one’s health. And as we get older, cohabitation might even be better: After age 45, men and women who simply lived with their partner experienced a more positive effect on their health than those who were married.
The results go to show that, when it comes to health at least, it’s simply having someone to lean on that matters, not a government-issued piece of paper. "The mechanism behind the association between marriage and health is...having a caring relationship in the household—rather than some special bond of marriage per se,” Kohn explained to the WSJ.