FRIDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- The health benefits of
marriage seem to fade when you need them most, according to a large
Although marriage does seem to benefit those who are in good
health, it provides less protection against death as health
declines, the Ohio State University researchers found. The
researchers also discovered that married people are more likely
than others to overestimate how healthy they are.
"We believe marriage is still good for the health of some
people, but it is not equally protective for everyone," study lead
author Hui Zheng, an assistant professor of sociology, said in a
university news release. "For those who are already in poor health,
marriage doesn't seem to provide any extra benefits."
The findings were true for both men and women and were similar
for those who were separated, divorced, widowed or never married,
according to the study, which was published in the March issue of
Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
The researchers analyzed data from nearly 800,000 people who
took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 1986 to
2004. Survey participants rated their own health as either
excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. The researchers used
follow-up data to identify the more than 24,000 participants who
died between 1986 and 2006.
The study confirmed previous findings that, overall, people who
are not married have a significantly increased risk of death within
three years. Never-married people who rate their health as
excellent are twice as likely to die within three years than
married people in excellent health.
But this study also found that, as health declines, the lower
risk of death for married people declines. Each unit decline in
self-rated health (from good to fair, for instance) decreases the
death-risk difference between married and unmarried people by 12
percent. Among people who rate their health as poor, there is no
significant difference in death risk between married and unmarried
"These results suggest that marriage may be important for the
prevention of disease, but not as helpful once people become
seriously ill," Zheng said. "That's why we see a protective effect
of marriage when people are in excellent health, but not when they
are in poor health."
Although the study found an association between marital status
and health, it didn't show a cause-and-effect relationship.
The American Psychological Association offers tips for a