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Does Marriage Make Men Healthier?

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“It makes even less sense when you realize that being single is bad for your health.”

My friend Kim made this statement during a heated group discussion about men and marriage a few weeks ago.

Over cheap wings and cheaper beer, distinct gender battle lines were drawn as we — three men and five women — debated why the modern man seems to be less and less enthused about marriage and family.

Now, no one questioned the validity of Kim’s statement. After all, it’s a commonly known fact that married men rate happier and live longer than men who’ve never been married, and a quick jaunt to Google confirms this.

A 2011 Canadian study found married men found married men were significantly healthier than single men. Researchers found on average married heart attack victims arrive at the hospital a half hour sooner than single men. Wives are more likely to remind – or nag – husbands about seeing a doctor and women are more likely to check with their doctors for medical advice on their husbands behalf.

Another study published in 2008 found that married men and women tend to be healthier than their single, divorced or widowed peers – though the health gap between single and married men is narrowing.

Marriage has also been proven to have a positive effect on gay men, as married gay men are much healthier and happier than their single counterparts. Men in same-sex marriage have fewer doctor visits and lower health care costs compared to other gay or bisexual men, the 2011 study found.

But while the statistical evidence “proves” that being married is healthier than being single, I’ve never truly bought that message. Mind you, this is no anti-marriage rant. I definitely acknowledge and appreciate the fact that healthy romantic relationships in general and marriage in particular do have many positive effects, but I also know that stats can be manipulated to tell whichever story you’d wish to.

I wonder how much of a true correlation there is between health, happiness, and marriage.

For instance, the wing night conversation began when Kim pointed out that none of the eight people in attendance — all healthy, (relatively) attractive, college educated, and gainfully employed — had ever been married; a stark contrast, she argued, to the world our parents grew up in.

While her point was true, Kim neglected to mention the tenuous nature of 21st century life. As my own parents never grow tired of reminding me, 40-50 years ago a man (or woman) could graduate from high school or college and basically walk right into the job they’d hold for the next 30 years.

This financial stability makes it easier for a person to plan for a family, a fact that (finally) brings me to my point: It’s not so much that marriage makes men healthier and happier as much as it’s that healthier and happier men are more likely to get married.

A Swiss study published in 2004 begged the question: does marriage make people happier or do happy people get married? The results were single people who will likely get married are happier than single people who will likely stay single.

Yes, it is true that we seem to be collectively less enthused about getting married and starting families. But while this sentiment is usually blamed on selfishness and/or fear of commitment, perhaps the modern man’s apathy towards marriage has less to do with marriage itself and more to do with him still attempting to get his stuff together.

A man with all his eggs in order is probably going to be happier and healthier than a man who’s still grinding, still adjusting to this poor economy, still figuring out what he’s doing with his life. This (already) healthy and happy man’s (relatively) stable life makes him more likely to “build” than a man whose foundation isn’t as sturdy.

Marriage didn’t make him happy. He was happy and healthy before, and the only thing these studies are proving is that marriage didn’t make him less happy and healthy. This fact still shines a favorable light on marriage, but instead of looking at matrimony as having transformative powers on a man’s life, perhaps we should be focused on getting men (and women) healthy and happy instead of hitched.

 

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Damon Young is the co-author of Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm at Night, and the co-founder of VerySmartBrothas.com — an award-winning blog recently named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100. Young is also the head editor of The Hill Review — a literary magazine founded and funded by the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. A graduate of Canisius College (English B.A.), his work has been featured in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Root, Essence Magazine, The Huffington Post, NPR News, Jet Magazine, Black Enterprise, The Good Men Project, Clutch Magazine, and Madame Noire. He resides in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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