It is probably worth it to make the effort to say "I do," as experts in Great Britain suggest in a review that, on average, married people live longer and men enjoy better physical health, while women enjoy better mental health.
The review, which looked at 148 studies and was published in the British Medical Journal Thursday, concludes that the reason men enjoy better health when married is their partner's positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women, the researchers say, may be because women place great value on the importance of the relationship itself.
The most widely accepted explanation for marriage being a good thing is that being in a committed relationship means better social support is available. It starts with the spouse and expands to a network of supportive relationships from there, the study suggested.
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Researchers David and John Gallacher at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, Wales, concluded that marriage and other forms of partnership can be placed along a sliding scale of commitment, with greater commitment conferring greater benefit.
A downside of romance, noted the researchers, is that young love is associated with increased depressive symptoms. But that gets a little better as a person matures.
Benefits of marriage get better over time
Romantic relationships among those 18-25 are associated with better mental health, but not better physical health.
"It seems a degree of maturity is required before Cupid is likely to bring a net health benefit," the researchers said.
Not all relationships are beneficial the overview study concludes.
"Difficult and strained relationships in both the short and long term are consistently shown to have a negative impact on mental health, and the ending of a strained relationship brings mental health benefits."
A final conclusion of the study is that exclusive and supportive relationships confer substantial mental and physical health benefits that grow over time. And, the Gallacher brothers say, "although failure of a relationship can harm health, that is an argument for avoiding a bad relationship, rather than not getting into a relationship at all."
Civil partnerships should theoretically offer the same benefits as heterosexual partnerships in terms of social support, but more research is needed on this, the study's authors said.