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Newsweek's Misleading Account of Latest Marriage Study

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A new day has dawned, and with it another study of marriage misrepresented in the media. As always, the inaccuracies are in one direction only -- implying that getting married results in better outcomes than it actually does. I've been at this for a while, and I have yet to find a media report that misrepresents findings in a way that makes singles look better than they actually are. (I don't even want that -- I want accuracy.)

Here are some of the headlines that were published, supposedly as descriptions of the latest study of marriage:

  • "Getting married -- and staying married -- is good for your health" (from Health Behavior News Service)
  • "Lasting marriage linked to better health" (from Reuters)
  • "Divorce hurts health even after remarriage" (from MSNBC.com)
  • "Another reason to stay married" (from Newsweek)

Here are some of the headlines you did not see, that actually would be accurate descriptions of the results of the study:

  1. People who have always been single are healthier than the previously married. (The advantage held for all four measures of health: number of chronic conditions, number of mobility limitations, self-rated health, and depression. Significance tests were not reported.)
  2. People who have always been single have no more chronic health conditions than people who are currently married. (This is especially noteworthy because this is not a comparison of all people who stayed single with all people who had ever gotten married. Instead, it just compares the ever-single to those who are currently married. Anyone who got married, hated it -- maybe even suffered poor health during marriage -- and got divorced and stayed that way -- is taken out of the married group. Do you see how this makes marriage look better than it really is?)
  3. Women who have always been single report heath that is just as good as women who got married and stayed married. (This comparison uses a married group that is even more selective. Single women -- all of them -- are compared not to all currently married women -- a group that would include those who were previously divorced or widowed and got remarried -- but just to those who married and stayed married. In the study, the continuously married represent just about 57 percent of all those who ever did marry. Of course, there is no comparable selection of just a particular subgroup of singles. Yet, even by this rigged comparison, the always-single women [though not the men] do just fine.)
  4. Men who got married were less healthy the younger they married. (This was true even for those who got married and stayed married. What's especially noteworthy about this is that the authors pursued this analysis in their attempt to show that marriage is so good for you, that the more years you spend married, the healthier you will be. Surprise! The opposite was true, even for the most select group of men who got married and stayed married. Among those who married and then got divorced or widowed, the results still were not as the authors expected. Those who got married at a later age -- both men and women -- reported better overall health and fewer chronic conditions and mobility limitations than those who married at a younger age.)
Now consider this quote, taken directly from the original report: "Those who have married once and remained married are consistently, strongly, and broadly advantaged." Considering results number two and number three above, this statement simply cannot be true.

I'm making two points. One, the media got this study wrong. Two, the authors were not entirely accurate, either.

(Continue reading here at the Living Single blog at Psychology Today.)

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