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Effects of Marriage on Mental Health

Research Synthesis Paper: 164 Reasons to Marry

Married people are least likely to have mental disorders, 1) and have higher levels of emotional and psychological well-being than those who are single, divorced, or cohabiting.2) Marriage protects against feelings of loneliness.3) Married mothers enjoy greater psychological well-being and greater love and intimacy than cohabiting or single mothers.4) Marriage also has a wide range of benefits for physical health.

1. Anxiety and Stress

Both adults and children in married families suffer less psychological distress than their counterparts in divorced families.5) Married men have lower levels of stress hormones,6) and married women experience less psychological distress.7) According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, biological parents and adoptive parents who live together report less parenting stress (48.9) than single mothers (52.1), biological parent/stepparent families (52.0), or “other” family structure (50.6) such as single fathers. 8) (See Chart Below) Married mothers feel more love and intimacy and feel less ambivalence and experience less conflict with their husbands than do cohabiting and single women with their partners.9)

2. Depression

Those who are married report less depression10) than cohabiting couples.11) Married mothers report less depression, more support from their partners, and more stable relationships than cohabiting mothers.12) Adolescents living with married parents are less likely to be depressed than those in stepfamilies or single-parent families (with or without other adults present).13)

3. Suicide

Married people are least likely to commit suicide.14) Adolescents in divorced families are more likely to commit suicide.15)

4. Happiness

A larger fraction of those raised in an intact family consider themselves “very happy” than those raised in non-intact families.16) (See Chart Below) Married people are much more likely to report being happy than cohabiters,17) and those who do not cohabit prior to marriage report having happier marriages than those who do cohabit.18) Married people (those in intact marriages and those who have divorced and remarried) most frequently report being proud of their work.19) Married mothers of infants have the most positive attitudes and report forming better home environments than single and cohabiting mothers.20)

5. Drug and Alcohol Use

Married individuals are more likely to cease using marijuana, due in part to improvements in self-control.21) Continuously married adults less frequently report that they sometimes drink too much.22) Married women have fewer alcohol problems.23) African-Americans who are married have lower rates of excessive drinking and drug use.24)

Adolescents from intact married families are less likely to use cocaine than those from divorced families.25) Teenagers from intact families are less likely to begin smoking than those with never-married or divorced single parents.26)

6. Community

Older married couples enjoy more social support than older cohabiters.27) Married mothers enjoy more social support than cohabiting or single mothers.28) Those in intact marriages less often report believing that most people would try to take advantage of others. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 31.6 percent of always-intact married adults believe that, given the opportunity, most people would try to take advantage of others, followed by 39.7 percent of married, previously-divorced adults, 44 percent of single, never-married adults, and 44.3 percent of single, divorced or separated adultsUnderlined Text.29) (See Chart Above) Married parents spend more on education and less on alcohol and Tabaco as compared to cohabiting parents.30)

1) David Williams, et al., “Marital Status and Psychiatric Disorders Among Blacks and Whites,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 33 (1992): 140-157. As cited in Glenn T. Stanton, “Why Marriage Matters.” Available at http://www.ampartnership.org/resourcecenter/news/89-why-marriage-matters.html. Accessed 27 July 2011.
Benjamin Malzberg, “Marital Status in Relation to the Prevalence of Mental Disease,” Psychiatric Quarterly 10 (1936): 245-261; James Coyne, M.J. Rohrbaugh, Varda Shoham, John S. Sonnega, John M. Nicklas, and James A. Cranford, “Prognostic Importance of Marital Quality for Survival of Congestive Heart Failure” American Journal of Cardiology 88, no. 5 (2001): 526-529. As cited in California Healthy Marriages Coalition, “Healthy Marriages, Mental Health. Research on the Alignment of Marital Outcomes and Mental Health.” Available at http://camarriage.com/content/resources/7b8690b0-784f-46e7-af7d-438a9b064557.pdf. Accessed 25 August 2011.
2) Susan L. Brown, “Relationship Quality Dynamics of Cohabiting Unions,” Journal of Family Issues 24, no. 5 (2003): 583-601.
Susan L. Brown, “The Effect of Union Type on Psychological Well-being: Depression among Cohabitors versus Marrieds,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41, no. 3 (2000): 241-255.
Beth A. Hahn, “Marital Status and Women’s Health: the Effect of Economic Marital Acquisitions,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55, no. 2 (1993): 495-504; Yuanreng Hu and Noreen Goldman, “Mortality Differentials by Marital Status: An International Comparison,” Demography 27, no. 2 (1990): 233-250; J.K. Kiecolt-Glaser and T.L. Newton, “Marriage and Health: His and Hers,” Psychological Bulletin 127, no. 4 (2001): 472-503; Lee A. Lillard and Constantijn W.A. Panis, “Marital Status and Mortality: The Role of Health,” Demography 33, no. 3 (1996): 313-327; Lee A. Lillard and Linda J. Waite, “’Til Death Do us Part: Marital Disruption and Mortality,” The American Journal of Sociology 100, no. 5 (1995): 1131-1156; Kristen Marcussen, “Explaining Differences in Mental Health Between Married and Cohabiting Individuals,” Social Psychology Quarterly 68, no. 3 (1999): 239-257; Steven Stack and J. Ross Eshleman, “Marital Status and Happiness: A 17-Nation Study,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1998): 527-536; K.A.S. Wickrama, et al., “Marital Quality and Physical Illness: A Latent Growth Curve Analysis,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 59, no. 1 (1997): 143-155. All as cited in Daniel Lees, “The Psychological Benefits of Marriage,” Research Note (April 2007): 1-4. Available at http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/psychological_benefits_of_marriage.pdf. Accessed 27 July 2011
3) Randy Page and Galen Cole, “Demographic Predictors of Self-Reported Loneliness in Adults,” Psychological Reports 68 (1991): 939-945. As cited in Glenn T. Stanton, “Why Marriage Matters,” Available at http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/gods_design_for_marriage/marriage_gods_idea/why_marriage_matters_for_adults. aspx#footnoteRef17, accessed 12 April, 2013.
Distel, Marijn A., Irene Rebollo-Mesa, Abdel Abdellaoui, Catherine A. Derom, Gonneke Willemsen, John T. Cacioppo, Dorret I. Boomsma, “Familial Resemblance for Loneliness,” Behavior Genetics 40, no. 4 (July 2010): 480, 488,490.
4) , 9) Stacy Rosenkrantz Aronson and Aletha C. Huston, “The mother-infant relationship in single, cohabiting, and married families: a case for marriage?” Journal of Family Psychology 18, no. 1 (March 2004): 5-18. As cited by The Heritage Foundation: Family Facts. Available at http://www.familyfacts.org/search?q=huston%20and%20aronson&type=findings&page=1. Accessed 1 September 2011.
5) Paul R. Amato, “The Consequence of Divorce for Adults and Children,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 62 (2000): 1269-1287. As cited in Nicholas Zill, “Parenting Stress and Family Structure.” Available at http://www.frc.org/mappingamerica/mapping-america-35-parenting-stress-and-family-structure. Accessed 26 August 2011.
6) Dario Maestripieri, “Between- and within-sex variation in hormonal responses to psychological stress in a large sample of college students,” Stress 13, no. 5 (2010): 413–442; Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “Is There Something Unique about Marriage? The Relative Impact of Marital Status, Relationship Quality, and Network Social Support on Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Mental Health,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 35, no. 2 (2008): 239-244. As cited in Kathleen Blanchard, “Health & Marriage: Benefits for Men.” Available at http://www.foxnews.com/health/2010/10/13/health-marriage-benefits-men/#ixzz1TDmcdmCc. Accessed 26 July 2011.
7) Duncan Cramer, “Living Alone, Marital Status, Gender and Health,” Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 3 (1993): 9.
William R. Avison, Jennifer Ali, and David Walters, “Family Structure, Stress, and Psychological Distress: A Demonstration of the Impact of Differential Exposure,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 48 (2007): 306.
8) Nicholas Zill, “Parenting Stress and Family Structure,” Mapping America Project available at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09A28.pdf
10) Susan Brown, “The Effect of Union Type on Psychological Well-Being: Depression among Cohabitors versus Marrieds,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41, no. 3 (2000): 247-248.
11) Kristen Marcussen, “Explaining Differences in Mental Health between Married and Cohabiting Individuals,” Social Psychology Quarterly 68, no. 3 (2005): 239-257; Susan L. Brown, G.R. Lee, and R.J. Bulanda, “The Significance of Nonmarital Cohabitation: Marital Status and Mental Health Benefits among Middle-Aged and Older Adults,” The Journals of Gerontology 60, no. 1 (2005): S21-S29. Both as cited in Daniel Lees, “The Psychological Benefits of Marriage,” Research Note (April 2007): 1-4. Available at http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/psychological_benefits_of_marriage.pdf. Accessed 27 July 2011.
12) Valarie King, “Stepfamily Formation: Implications for Adolescent Ties to Mothers, Nonresident Fathers, and Stepfathers,” Journal of Marriage and Family 71, no. 4 (November 2009): 4.
13) Anne E. Barrett and R. Jay Turner, “Family structure and mental health: The mediating effects of socioeonomic status, family process and social stress,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 46, no. 2 (2005): 156-169. As cited in National Healthy Marriage Resource Center Research Brief by Jana Staton, “Making the Connection Between Healthy Marriage and Health Outcomes: What the Research Says” (2009): 1-18.
14) Maria Masocco, et al., “Suicide and marital status in Italy,” Psychiatric Quarterly 79, no. 4 (2008): 275-285. As cited in Roger Dobson, “From cancer to heart disease, the amazing, life-saving benefits of marriage,” Available http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1049134/From-cancer-heart-disease-amazing-life-saving-benefits-marriage.html, accessed 5 April 2013.
15) David M. Cutler, et al., “Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide,” Working Paper 7713 (Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research): 2000. As cited in Glenn T. Stanton, “Why Marriage Matters,” http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/gods_design_for_marriage/marriage_gods_idea/why_marriage_matters_for_adults. aspx#footnoteRef17, accessed 12 April, 2013.
16) Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Family Structure.” Available at http://www.frc.org/mappingamerica/mapping-america-50-intergenerational-links-to-happiness-family-structure. Accessed 26 August 2011.
17) Steven Stack and J. Ross Eshleman.“Marital Status and Happiness: A 17-Nation Study,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1998): 527-536. As cited in Daniel Lees, “The Psychological Benefits of Marriage” Research Note, (April 2007): 1-4. Available at http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/psychological_benefits_of_marriage.pdf. Accessed 27 July 2011.
Lee, Kristen Schultz, and Hiroshi Ono, “Marriage, Cohabitation, and Happiness: A Cross-National Analysis of 27 Countries,” Journal of Marriage & Family 74, no. 5 (October 2012): 961-962.
18) James, Spencer L., and Brett A. Beattie, “Reassessing the Link between Women's Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Quality,” Social Forces 91, no. 2 (December 2012): 651, 652.
19) Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “I Am Proud of the Type of Work I Do.” Available at http://www.frc.org/mappingamerica/mapping-america-77-i-am-proud-of-the-type-of-work-i-do-by-marital-status. Accessed 26 August 2011.
20) , 28) Stacy Rosenkrantz Aronson and Aletha C. Huston, “The mother-infant relationship in single, cohabiting, and married families: a case for marriage?” Journal of Family Psychology 18, no. 1 (March 2004): 5-18. As cited by The Heritage Foundation: Family Facts. Available at http://www.familyfacts.org/search?q=huston%20and%20aronson&type=findings&page=1. Accessed 1 September 2011
21) Walter Forrest and Carter Hay, “Life-course transitions, self-control and desistance from crime,” Criminology and Criminal Justice 11, no. 5 (November 2011): 487-513. As cited in Physorg article, “The Benefits of Marriage.” Available at http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-09-benefits-marriage.html. Accessed 2 December 2011.
22) Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “‘Sometimes Drinks too Much Alcohol’ by Marital Status.” Available at http://www.frc.org/mappingamerica/mapping-america-86-sometimes-drinks-too-much-alcohol-by-marital-status-. Accessed 26 August 2011.
23) Allan V. Horwitz, Helene Raskin White, and Sandra Howell-White, “Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58 (November 1996): 895-907.
24) Ali, Mir M., and Olugbenga Ajilore, “Can Marriage Reduce Risky Health Behavior for African-Americans?” Journal of Family & Economic Issues 32, no. 2 (June 2011): 198, 200.
25) Lisa A. Cubbins and Daniel H. Klepinger, “Childhood Family, Ethnicity, and Drug Use over the Life Course,” Journal of Marriage and Family 69, no. 3 (August 2007): 810-830. As cited by The Heritage Foundation: Family Facts. Available at http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/24/keeping-teens-safe-how-the-intact-family-buffers-against-teen-substance-use. Accessed 20 July 2011.
26) Chery Amey and Stan Albrecht, “Race and Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Drug Use: The Impact of Family Structure and the Quantity and Quality of Parental Interaction,” Journal of Drug Issues 28, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 283-298. As cited by The Heritage Foundation: Family Facts. Available at http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/24/keeping-teens-safe-how-the-intact-family-buffers-against-teen-substance-use. Accessed 20 July 2011.
Brown, Susan L., and Lauren N Rinelli, “Family Structure, Family Processes, and Adolescent Smoking and Drinking,” Journal Of Research On Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell) 20, no. 2 (June 2010): 264, 266.
27) Susan L. Brown, Gary R. Lee, and Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda, “Cohabitation among Older Adults: A National Portrait,” The Journals of Gerontology 61B, no. 2 (March 2006): S75
29) Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “’Belief That People Try to Take Advantage of Others’ by Marital Status.” Available at http://www.frc.org/mappingamerica/mapping-america-89-belief-that-people-try-to-take-advantage-of-others-by-marital-status. Accessed 26 August 2011.
30) Thomas DeLeire and Ariel Kalil, “How Do Cohabiting Couples with Children Spend Their Money?” Journal of Marriage and Family, no. 67 (2005): 286-295. As cited in Institute for American Values, “Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” 13. Available at http://www.americanvalues.org/pdfs/why_marriage_matters2.pdf. Accessed 2 April 2013.