About This Research Brief
This brief was prepared by Robert G. Wood, Brian Goesling, and Sarah Avellar of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. under contract to ASPE. The brief summarizes the findings of a synthesis of the literature on the effects of marital status on health outcomes in the U.S. The full report is available on ASPE's website: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/marriageonhealth/index.htm
A review of international studies, "How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence," is available at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/papers/twerp728.pdf
Principal Deputy/Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy
|Marriage has become an increasingly important topic in academic and policy research. A burgeoning literature suggests that marriage may have a wide range of benefits, including improvements in individuals' economic well-being, mental and physical health, and the well-being of their children. This brief focuses on recent research evidence concerning one of these potential benefits of marriage — its effects on health. The brief provides an overview of what is currently known about the relationship between marriage and health; it also suggests directions for future research.
Married people are generally healthier than unmarried people, as measured by numerous health outcomes.(1) To investigate the complex relationship between marriage and health, this review scrutinizes recent research, focusing on studies that use rigorous statistical methods to examine whether marriage is a cause of these better health outcomes.
A focus on the most rigorous recent evidence reveals that marriage has positive effects on certain health-related outcomes. These studies find, for example, that marriage improves certain mental health outcomes, reduces the use of some high-cost health services (such as nursing home care), and increases the likelihood of having health insurance coverage. In addition, an emerging literature suggests that growing up with married parents is associated with better health as an adult. Marriage has mixed effects on health behaviors — leading to healthier behaviors in some cases (reduced heavy drinking) and less healthy behaviors in others (weight gain). For other key health outcomes — in particular, measures of specific physical health conditions-the effects of marriage remain largely unaddressed by rigorous research.