(www.BlackDoctor.org) (HealthDaily News)-- 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 Health.
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 as much."
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 been married.
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, presumably HIV/AIDS and other external causes. For the older segment, the main causes were cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
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 relationship.
"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 added.
"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 of themselves."
She added, "The happier you are, the healthier you are."
For more on relationships and their impact on health, head to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., professor and chair, department of health services, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health; Audrey F. Von Poelnitz, M.D., cardiologist, Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morristown, N.J.; September 2006, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
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