Staying single all your life may not be good
for your health.
That's the conclusion of new research that shows
that people who never marry face an even greater
chance of dying early than people who have been
divorced, separated or widowed. All of these groups
had shorter survival prospects than people who
were currently married.
The effect held true across all age groups, even
younger ones, the researchers noted.
"This seems to happen all the way along,"
said lead researcher Robert Kaplan, professor
and chair of the department of health services
at the University of California, Los Angeles,
School of Public Health.
His team published the findings in the September
issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community
Previous research had found a connection between
being married and a longer life expectancy and,
more specifically, between being married and a
lower incidence of heart disease. Marriage is
considered a rough proxy for "social connectedness,"
which experts believe can help people live longer.
Most of these studies, however, haven't distinguished
between people who are separated, divorced or
widowed and those who have never been married.
"We're getting at never-married people,"
Kaplan said. "That hasn't been looked at
The authors argued that widowed and divorced
people are more likely to have children and are
thus more likely to be socially connected. Never-married
people would not have these benefits.
To test their theory, the researchers looked
at the 1997 U.S. National Death Index and the
1989 National Health Interview survey.
In 1989, almost half of the sample were married,
almost 10 percent were widowed, 12 percent were
divorced, 3 percent were separated, 5 percent
were living with someone, and 20 percent had never
The death rate for people who were unmarried,
whether because of divorce, separation or widowhood,
was significantly higher than it was for those
married and still living with their spouses.
But among those not now married, the effect was
strongest for those who had never been married
and was more pronounced among men than among women.
Compared with currently married folk, people
who had been widowed were almost 40 percent more
likely to die between 1989 and 1997, while those
who had been divorced or separated were 27 percent
more likely. Those who had never been married
were 58 percent more likely to have died than
those who were married and cohabitating.
The findings held true across all age groups,
and with different causes of death, not just heart
disease, according to the researchers. For those
aged 19 to 44, the main causes of early death
among never-married adults were infectious diseases,
and other external causes. For the older segment,
the main causes were cardiovascular and other
According to the authors, the risks of being
never married were similar to the risks of having
increased blood pressure or high cholesterol.
It's not clear if there is a cause-and-effect
"We don't know if it's causal," Kaplan
cautioned. It's possible that never-married people
suffer from poor health or engage in risky behaviors,
either of which could make them less likely to
marry, he said.
Additional research done since this study was
completed has yielded identical results, Kaplan
"It makes perfect sense," said Dr.
Audrey F. Von Poelnitz, a cardiologist at Morristown
Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. "If you're
married, you have more of a life, you have a whole
connection to the world, which creates a happier
person who has more desire to be healthy, live
healthy and live longer by taking better care
She added, "The happier you are, the healthier