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Of Marriage and Mortality

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A new study suggests that people who have never married run twice the risk of dying in middle age than those who have spouses

According to a recent study, published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, those who do not have a spouse or partner during middle age are likelier to die before they reach 60 than those who do.

The researchers, Dr Ilene Siegler and colleagues from the US’s Duke University Medical Center, were interested in the subject because, according to them, survival through middle age to the elderly (from 40 to 60 years of age) is usually expected. Thus, they claim, studying who do not survive to become elders and understanding why is important.

For the research, they analysed data for 4,802 individuals who took part in the University of North Carolina Alumni Heart Study (UNCAHS), an ongoing study of individuals born in the 1940s. The authors particularly observed stability and change in patterns of marital and non-marital status during midlife. They recorded stability and change in patterns of marital and non-marital status during midlife, and looked at the effect of personality traits during the late teens, socioeconomic status and health risk behaviours.

They found that people who never married had twice the risk of dying in middle age, compared to those who had a stable marriage during their adult life. Loss of a partner through divorce or death and staying single was associated with a higher chance of not living long enough to become elderly, even after taking other factors into account such as health behaviours and personality.

The researchers found that marriage could boost chances of living a long life and is especially important as we transition to middle-age. According to the researchers, the findings of the study show the importance of social ties past one’s youth. They write in the journal: ‘Our results suggest that attention to non-marital patterns of partnership is likely to become more important for these Baby Boomers. These patterns appear to provide different levels of emotional and functional social support, which has been shown to be related to mortality. Social ties during midlife are important to help us understand premature mortality.’