Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Single People at Risk for Earlier Death

I know, I know. This isn’t the kind of news you want to hear on a Friday afternoon, but according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, single people are likely to die more than a decade earlier than married people. These findings are based on “data from some 90 previous studies [from the last 60 years], which included about 500 million people.” The risk of mortality for singles from those studies — defined as those who never married — were compared to that of married people (not including those who were divorced or widowed).

The study concluded that single men could die about eight to 17 years earlier than their married male counterparts, and single women could die about seven to 15 years earlier than their married female friends. “The researchers speculate their longevity findings could be tied to poorer health benefits, meager public assistance and less income for singles. And some singles may not have the same social support that married couples have ‘by default,’ explains lead author David Roelfs, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Louisville, Ky.

If you’re single, please take heart. This study isn’t without controversy, of course. Social psychologist Bella DePaulo, author of “Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After,” argues that not enough studies about married life vs. single life consider divorced and widowed people among “the married cohort, skewing the numbers.”

“You can’t say that single people would live longer if they got married, based on this research, because the researcher is only counting the people who got married and are still currently married. Divorced and widowed people got married at one time, too,” says DePaulo.

She’s so right. How many people who have been divorced would say that their marriages likely led them to an earlier death? That would be an interesting study… [via MSNBC.com]

42 comments… add one
  • Yozi August 19, 2011, 12:16 pm

    I’m pretty sure I read a study a few months ago that stated that if you have a happy marriage you live longer on average than most single people, but if your marriage is troubled or if you divorce you die earlier than most single people on average. I guess it’s fair to say that most of the people in the above study that they surveyed were in happy marriages given that they had never divorced. So I guess the take away from this is if you can pull off a happy marriage then it’s beneficial to your health. But if your marriage crashes and burns then you would have been better off single. Pretty much common sense I think. Something I think that contributes to the health of the study participants is that a good chunk of the people who stay married forevs are religious. I’m not religious in any way, but I do know that faith has proven health benefits. Also, intelligence is a major health risk.

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    • CG August 19, 2011, 12:23 pm

      And I’ve read studies that say single women as a whole are happier and live longer than married women, whereas married men are happier and live longer than single men.

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      • ForeverYoung August 19, 2011, 1:31 pm

        I can totally see that. If I have to pick up one more dirty sock up from the middle of the living room this week I will for sure lose a year or two of life.

        He on the other time has learned what a vegetable is in our 2 years of marriage. I have learned that fried chicken is a food group.

      • ForeverYoung August 19, 2011, 1:32 pm

        too many ups…but you get the point

      • Amber August 19, 2011, 1:44 pm

        Ah socks in the middle of the living room! Glad it’s not just me that has to pick them up.

        My husband goes to the doctor now which he didn’t do before we met. But, he also reminds me when things aren’t important enough to get all upset about and makes me relax more (like socks in the living room haha ;)).

        That being said I was also extremely happy single. I don’t think if I had stayed single I would have lived a shorter life.

        I wonder too how much length of life is tied to community and the support system you have surrounding you. If you’re single and have no support system I could see this being true. I think that’s what some people associate with marriage gaining that community/support system.

      • ForeverYoung August 19, 2011, 3:40 pm

        The socks in the middle of the living room spin me into a dimension of pissed off I can’t even rationalize to myself let alone logically explain to others. Not sure why. For example he just called me an hour ago and asked if he could go camping this weekend with his friends – totally last minute and we had plans tomorrow night – and I really could not care less. But if you cannot pick up after yourself you either a. think i’m your mother or b. think i’m a maid.

        Haha it’s a touchy subject around this place.

      • Elle August 22, 2011, 11:06 am

        Why don’t you put his socks in between his Star Wars figurines (or what have you) or hang them on some pictures in the livingroom? When he asks, you can say you’ve been decorating :). My dad used to do the funniest things with mom’s bras. Your SO will get the hint, and you’ll both get a chuckle out of it :).

      • Christy August 19, 2011, 6:41 pm

        I think support systems would play a role. People assume single people don’t have support systems (while married people have them “by default”), but it’s often married people who just rely on one other person–their spouse, while single people have a group of friends to count on.

      • TheOtherMe August 19, 2011, 1:36 pm

        For me, it feels good to not have to sleep with earplugs anymore.

        Better sleep = better health 🙂

      • TheOtherMe August 19, 2011, 1:03 pm

        I also read that.

      • Random August 19, 2011, 3:28 pm

        “And I’ve read studies that say single women as a whole are happier and live longer than married women, whereas married men are happier and live longer than single men.”

        This was commonly thought, but turned out to be due to an important error (not made in the study above). Studies often initially did not make a distinction between never married and divorced, or were reported that way in the popular press. Never married generally do much better than divorced, but the effects are often gender specific (although huge variability in the literature, probably depending on cohort).

    • Riefer August 19, 2011, 4:48 pm

      “I’m not religious in any way, but I do know that faith has proven health benefits. Also, intelligence is a major health risk.”

      Yozi, do you have any more info on either of these. I’m interested. I do remember reading that in the US, atheists are much more likely to be depressed than non-atheists. However, studies in Europe didn’t find the same, and the hypothesis was that it’s because in the US your religious community is much more likely to be your whole community, so if you don’t belong then you’re ostracized. Makes sense, and I can see how that would lead to lower health. But I’d be interested to see if any findings have shown that the faith itself is beneficial.

      With intelligence, I’ve definitely read studies that show that smart people are less happy than people with average intelligence, and the hypothesis there is that a) they can see the direction of the future better than the average person, so they have more to worry about, and b) they have to spend a lot more time dealing with people dumber than them. 🙂

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      • Britannia August 19, 2011, 4:56 pm

        With the intelligent people and atheists being less happy thing, I think it’s because they are able to think more in-depth about problems and potential problems, and find it more difficult to have blind hope. People of faith are able to say, “It’s in God’s hands” or “God will take care of me” and leave it at that, so that they can be helpful and happier. Atheistic and more intelligent people both cannot default to hope in the unknown, so they are left to worry about outcomes that they cannot predict.

      • Riefer August 19, 2011, 6:05 pm

        Good point, thanks!

      • budjer August 19, 2011, 6:15 pm

        That’s why you need to stress about what you can control and forget about the rest.:P

      • Riefer August 20, 2011, 9:41 am

        Oh, I know, but unfortunately my mind think it’s its job to stress about *everything*, whether it’s in my control or not! 🙂 Luckily, my husband is an expert at butting in at the right time to remind me there’s no point in stressing.

  • MsMisery August 19, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Considering we’re living to be 80, 90, or 100 these days, I wouldn’t get married just to gain 7-15 years. I like being a confirmed bachelorette.

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    • Budjer August 19, 2011, 1:27 pm

      The older I get and longer I am single the more comfortable I get with being that way indefinitely too. It’s addicting maybe?

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      • MsMisery August 22, 2011, 9:51 am

        You can’t teach an old catlady new tricks.

  • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 1:37 pm

    I know that for my husband and I we like to unwind together in the evening. We sit out in the summer and enjoy watching and listening to the birds and hearing the insects and share our day. We always know we have someone who is on our side, who is interested in what we’ve done, that we can confide in and joke with and relax with. It makes coming home a nice end to the day. I can imagine that if you didn’t get along and you went home to fighting and tension it would be horrible. There would be no place for peace and quiet and you would never be able to unwind.

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    • PFG-SCR August 19, 2011, 1:44 pm

      “There would be no place for peace and quiet and you would never be able to unwind.”

      No matter how strong of a marriage, that’s what home life becomes when you have kids. 😉

      In all seriousness, I’m curious how kids factor in to all of this – it’s not just the extra work and loss of peace and serenity at home, but the worrying, stress and loss of sleep that accompanies being a parent.

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      • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 2:49 pm

        Kids definitely put a marriage on trial. We’re all a pretty laid back family so our kids are usually ok but they do have their moments from time to time and our son was nonstop stress when he was a preschooler (just the effort to keep him safe because he was nonstop into everything.) Our son is 20 now and usually doesn’t aggravate much anymore. Our biggest issue with him during the last month was that he was slow to mow the grass and he did get it done and we didn’t nag him, although my husband did have visions of turning off the electricity to our son’s room until said mowing was done. But it helped that the two of us made jokes about it together and all in all it was trivial. He comes in at 2:00 am sometimes but he’s a big boy and we don’t sit up worrying.

        Our daughter is 11 and so in that easier stage that you get from ages about 6 to 12 where you don’t have to watch them every instant and they can take a bath without your help and dress themself and etc. Not yet to the angsty teen stage and a full year away from middle school drama. I’m going to enjoy this year while I can! She also has close friends who aren’t interested in drama and I think that will help be a huge buffer to peer pressure in middle school. It certainly made a big difference for our son. One nice bit about having two kids nine years apart is that we can often go out and leave our daughter at home with our son so don’t have to drag her along for things like grocery shopping where she would whine endlessly. What a difference that makes for all of us and for greater family harmony. Our kids are also far enough apart in age that they don’t fight much and that is a bonus.

      • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 2:51 pm

        When we had our son no one ever warned us that kids were stress. I think it’s talked about more now but it took us by surprise. We had no idea that kids were that hard on marriage.

      • Caris August 19, 2011, 9:58 pm

        Just a tiny comment, when I read the “coming back home at 2.00 am” as that being late I thought it was funny because in Argentina it’s very normal for teenagers and young adults to get back home between 5am and 9am in the morning whenever they go out.

  • applescruff August 19, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Another thought – when you live with someone else, if there’s a medical emergency that person can call an ambulance, get you to the hospital, etc, which ups your chances of survival. If you live alone, you better be able to at least get yourself to a phone or you’re screwed.

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    • PFG-SCR August 19, 2011, 1:52 pm

      My husband’s corporate paid life insurance pays out twice as much if he dies at work – if I think he’s having a heart attack, I’m driving him immediately to his office.

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      • TheOtherMe August 19, 2011, 1:54 pm

        i adore you.

      • Budjer August 19, 2011, 2:36 pm

        Make sure you know where the video cameras are. Plan ahead.

    • TheOtherMe August 19, 2011, 1:46 pm

      I’ll take my chances 😉

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  • Budjer August 19, 2011, 1:26 pm

    Single men probably die sooner because they are more likely to continue horrible health habits like smoking and excessive drinking because the instant gratification out weighs the health deterrents when you don’t have anyone to worry about but yourself.

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  • Britannia August 19, 2011, 4:06 pm

    It seems to me that this conclusion can follow the studies that found that someone who lives with a beloved pet, like a dog or cat. Obviously, someone who has a happy life is going to live longer… mental stability and overall optimism help someone fight off depression, diseases, and stress.

    If anything, this study is biased based on the fact that their hypothesis is that we require intimate companionship in order to be happier. The very fact that the hypothesis itself is not taken to task perpetuates the social standard that single people cannot help but be sadder than their married peers.

    Everyone should be able to find happiness with their lot. Telling people that they should be unhappy just because they have a certain set of living circumstances, or giving people excuses to pity themselves for not having an “ideal” life, continues the cycle of unrest and unhappiness that is destroying my generation’s psyche. I think people are capable of creating their own happiness (not taking mental disorders into consideration… that’s a whole ‘nother bag of apples)! If a man in a Nazi concentration camp can find happiness and enlightenment, so can you.

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    • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 4:46 pm

      I don’t think the study said you should be unhappy if you were single, it said you would live longer, on average, if you were married and not divorced.

      I think that those who expect their marriage to make them happy are the ones who are most disappointed by marriage. I think you’ve got to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. I personally don’t mind being alone and never felt the need to have a partner just to have company or to be validated. That let me focus on school and left me available when the right person came along because I wasn’t caught up in a relationship just to be in a relationship.

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      • Britannia August 19, 2011, 4:52 pm

        It says you will live longer if you are happily married. That means that if you are unhappily single, you will most likely have a shorter life. When dictating a “truth”, it means that the opposite is inverse to the truth. If you don’t understand what I was getting at about the basis of the hypothesis being a result of society’s expectations that married people will have the potential for greater happiness than someone unmarried ever will, then I don’t know how to explain it any better.

      • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 5:04 pm

        I think they’re saying happily married because the statistics only held true for happy marriages but not unhappy marriages and so they made the qualification of happily married. Scientists are trained to be specific and so this is specific. They didn’t make distinctions between happily single and unhappily single. Whether they compared those and found no difference or never compared those they don’t say. I’d guess that there is a difference but that’s a guess.

      • Budjer August 19, 2011, 5:43 pm

        I agree with you, Skyblossom. They had to separate out happy and unhappy because I bet you their data showed no correlation when unhappy married couples were included….I think that is kind of like cherry picking data…although sometimes you have to do that to isolate trends in a specific demographic.

      • Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 5:58 pm

        Yes, put in all the factors and see what correlations you find. I used to do this, just in another field.

        It leaves me wondering if the group of singles included divorced people, so the unhappily married, or were the singles never married.

    • Budjer August 19, 2011, 4:09 pm

      I do think a lot of people look for happiness in companionship – whether or not society drives that I have no clue! Good points though.

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  • bittergaymark August 19, 2011, 5:27 pm

    Whatever… And Married People are more likely to be brutally murdered by their spouses.

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  • Christy August 19, 2011, 6:51 pm

    “The researchers speculate their longevity findings could be tied to poorer health benefits, meager public assistance and less income for singles.”

    Just want to highlight the fact that single (unmarried) people can’t be covered under someone else’s health insurance, so you’re less likely to get medical care you might need if you work at a job that won’t cover you. That goes for people who have the “default” social support of a partner.

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  • fast eddie August 19, 2011, 9:07 pm

    Married men don’t really live longer, it just seems longer and most to them die before their wife does. 😉

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  • Ruby August 20, 2011, 3:17 pm

    Maybe people who are ‘happier’ (whatever that means) live longer than people who are more often ‘unhappy’.

    There are married people who are happy, and single people who are happy.
    And then there are married people who are miserable, and single people who are miserable.

    I think your state of happiness and health has more to do with what’s inside you, and not your relationship status.

    I believe if you’re happy, try to live a fulfilled life, take care of yourself, and pursue things in life that bring you joy, you’re probably more likely to live longer than if you are miserable and don’t take care of yourself properly.

    Maybe somebody should do a study on that!

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  • AndreaMarie August 21, 2011, 7:35 pm

    Out of those covered in this study, how many of those married people who lived longest were women?? Stress is a huge factor in contributing to health issues. There are a large amount of married women who don’t work. These women don’t experience some of the highly stressful situations those who work full-time jobs for 20+ year experience. Plus, people who don’t work have better sleeping patterns, etc. Just throwing it out there.

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