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Benefits of Marriage

Studies suggest that marriage has a number of benefits for adults,
including psychological well-being, physical health, and economical stability.
In the United States, married individuals have better outcomes on a
variety of measures of psychological well-being compared to unmarried
individuals (Waite & Lehrer, 2003). Adults who marry and remain married have
better mental and emotional well-being, and lower rates of clinical depression
compared to unmarried individuals (Waite, 2005; Wilson & Oswald, 2005).
Moreover, longitudinal studies have found that married people who stay
married to the same person have better mental health outcomes compared to
widowed, divorced, separated, or never-married individuals (Ko, Berg, Butner,
Uchino, & Smith 2007; Smith et al., 2009).
Although both men and women gain psychological and emotional
benefits from marriage, studies indicate that men often benefit more than
women (Wilson & Oswald, 2005). This is in part due to the fact that emotional
support can come from sources outside of marriage for women since women’s
social support networks are typically more extensive than men’s (Schumaker
& Hill 1991; Wilson & Oswald, 2005). In addition, married men are less likely to
be depressed than single men (although there is no significant difference
between married and single women in this regard). Surprisingly, compared to
married individuals, cohabiters show higher levels of depression and alcohol
abuse (Wilson & Oswald, 2005). These marriage benefits may be due to the
quality and the stability of the marriage, not simply just living with someone
(Wilson & Oswald, 2005).
In addition to having psychological benefits, marriage has also been
found to provide physical health benefits. People who marry and stay married
tend to live longer and healthier lives than people who never marry or who are
divorced (Waite, 2005). Married individuals make fewer visits to the doctor, are
at reduced risk of hypertension (Kaplan & Kronick, 2006), and are less likely to
experience long-term illnesses or disabilities compared to unmarried adults
(Waite, 2005). Married individuals who stay married also have better survival
rates against illnesses (Murphy et al., 1997) and have fewer physical problems
and a lower risk of death (Goodwin et al., 1987; Waite & Gallagher, 2000). A
study by Helmer et al. (1999) also found a significantly higher risk of
Alzheimer’s disease among individuals who never married (Wilson & Oswald,
These health benefits are thought to be derived from several factors,
including the impact of marriage on stress levels, less risky behavior, and
healthier lifestyles by married individuals (Ross et al., 1990). According to
Waite (2005) and Prigerson et al. (1999), married couples differ from those
who are not married on exposure to stress, severity of stress, and access to
restorative behavior after stress, with married people having less stress, better
support to cope with stress, and lower rates of depression compared to
unmarried individuals. In addition, married people are less likely to take risks
with their health, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Finally,
Prigerson et al. (1999) found that married people have much better sleep and
less depression which also contributes to better health.
Economic benefits are a third advantage of marriage for individuals who
marry and stay married (Chun & Lee, 2001; Wilson & Oswald, 2005). Ross,
Mirowsky, and Goldsteen (1990) have defined a family as an “economic unit
bound by emotional ties”. Marriage can create an increase in the amount of
real income per partner. Ross et al. (1990), for example, found that individuals
who are married have fewer economic hardships compared to single people.
In addition, the economic benefits of marriage are especially significant for
women (Ross, Mirowsky, & Goldsteen, 1990), with married women from low
socio-economic backgrounds less likely to suffer from poverty or other material
hardship compared to their peers who are not married (Wilson & Oswald,
The positive impact of marriage is thus well documented in the research
literature. If the marriage is of low quality, however, individuals are not likely to
receive the same type of benefits compared to those who are in a happy and
satisfying relationship (Hawkins & Booth, 2005). According to a 12-year
longitudinal study by Hawkins and Booth (2005), long-term low-quality
marriages have significant negative effects on overall well-being. Compared to
happily married, divorced, or unmarried individuals, couples who remain in an
unhappy marriage have lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction,
self-esteem, and poorer overall health as well as an increase in the level of
psychological distress (Hawkins & Booth, 2005).
While happy marriages can provide positive benefits due to the
presence of a spouse who can be a consistent source of social and emotional
support (Waite & Gallagher, 2000), unhappily married individuals do not find a
great deal of meaning in their spousal role and do not provide social and
emotional support for one another, which can harm their self-esteem (Hawkins
& Booth, 2005). Furthermore, being unhappily married can negatively impact
life satisfaction, relationships with family, friends, and even career satisfaction
(Hawkins & Booth, 2005). Individuals with low marital happiness also tend to
have the lowest levels of psychological well-being (Hawkins & Booth, 2005;
Kamp, Dush, & Amato, 2005). In sum, marriage provides many benefits when
the quality of the marriage is positive and satisfying.

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