THE BLOG
09/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Marriage and Health: Et Tu, New York Times ?

The New York Times has just published a piece on that same marriage and health study that Newsweek discussed so misleadingly. Sadly, this piece isn't what it should be either. I am especially disappointed with this one because I've read some of the reporter's previous work and liked it. But if she had read my post on this study (including the terrific comments that were posted by readers) -- or Chapter 2 of Singled Out -- I think she would have written a better piece. In fact, from the comments that Living Single readers posted to my take-down of the Newsweek story (and their other comments as well) I think many readers could critique this New York Times story without any help from me.

Nonetheless, here goes.

The first sentence of the story is, "Married people tend to be healthier than single people." I'll get to that in a moment.

A few paragraphs later, the reporter takes up the question that Living Single readers raised in their comments to my post about the study: If this is so, why does it happen? Here's the reporter's answer:

"The health benefits of marriage, documented by a wealth of research, appear to stem from several factors. Married people tend to be better off financially and can share in a spouse's employer health benefits. And wives, in particular, act as gatekeepers for a husband's health, scheduling appointments and noticing changes that may signal a health problem. Spouses can offer logistical support, like taking care of children while a partner exercises or shuttling a partner to and from the doctor's office."

So what's the most important reason why married people tend to look healthier than unmarried people (if they do)? The study in question, like most others on the topic, looks at people of different marital statuses at one point in time. In one category are the people who are currently married, and in the others are the divorced, widowed, and always-single, and various permutations. The currently married people look healthier largely because all those people (probably at least 43%) who got married, hated it, and got divorced are taken out of the marriage group. In my favorite analogy, it is like a drug company claiming that taking their drug Shamster makes people healthier as long as you take out of the Shamster group all of the people who took it, hated it, and stopped taking it.

A few more points.

• If marriage is so good for health because wives nag their husbands to stay healthy, then why are married people fatter than everyone else?

• It is true that the currently married are better off financially than the currently unmarried and that they can get access to health care benefits by way of their spouse's plan at work. (The financial advantage is itself important -- marital status discrimination is built right into our laws and policies.) The story focuses on the divorced and widowed, but those who have always been single are also disadvantaged with regard to money and access to health benefits. So isn't it interesting (as I pointed out in my last post) that in the very study that the reporter is describing, people who have always been single have no more chronic health conditions than people who are currently married, and women who have always been single report heath that is just as good as women who got married and stayed married. People who have always been single have had a lifetime of economic disadvantages, and a lifetime of lesser access to health benefits, and a lifetime of figuring out for themselves how to stay healthy (no spousal nagging included), and yet they do just as well on some measures as people who are currently married. And remember, they are doing just as well according to the cheater-method that already gives a huge advantage to people who got married (by taking out of the group the huge chunk of people who got married, hated it, and got divorced). [Continue reading here at the Living Single blog at Psychology Today.]

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