Unhappy Marriages Can be Fatal
TAU researchers find link between marriage quality and life expectancy
Want to live a long and healthy life? A new TAU study suggests that it may be worthwhile to reflect on how successful our marriages are, especially for the men among us.
As Harmful as Smoking
"Our study shows that the quality of marriage and family life has health implications for life expectancy. Men who reported they perceived their marriage as failure died younger than those who experienced their marriages as very successful. In other words, the level of satisfaction with marriage has emerged as a predictive factor for life expectancy at a rate comparable with smoking (smokers versus non-smokers) and physical activity (activity versus inactivity)”, said one of the study’s lead researchers, Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari, head of the Department of Health Promotion at TAU's School of Public Health, Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
“Furthermore, it's important to note that we observed a higher risk among relatively young men, under the age of 50. At a higher age, the gap is smaller, perhaps due to processes of adjustment that life partners go through over time."
The study was based on extensive health data from more than 30 years of research that tracked the deaths of 10,000 Israeli men.
In addition to Dr. Lev-Ari, lead researchers from the School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine also included: Prof. Uri Goldbort from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, who initiated and managed the long-term study, and Dr. Yiftah Gapner, from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine. The article was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
As part of the study, the researchers conducted statistical analyses of a database launched in the 1960s. For 32 years, they tracked the health and behavior of 10,000 male Israel state employees, paying special attention to death from strokes and premature death in general.
At the beginning of the study, most of the participants were in their 40s. Since then, 64% died from a range of illnesses. "We wanted to analyze the data gathered longitudinally using various parameters to identify behavioral and psychosocial risk factors that can predict death from a CVA [a cerebrovascular accident or, in other words, a stroke] and premature death for any reason," Dr. Lev-Ari explains.
Early in the 32-year-long study, participants were asked to rank their level of marriage satisfaction on a scale of 1 (marriage is very successful) to 4 (marriage is unsuccessful). To the researchers' surprise, this scale would prove to be a predictive factor for life expectancy, highly similar to smoking and lack of physical activity. The number of deceased from a stroke was 69% higher among those who ranked their marriage satisfaction at 4 (i.e. marriage is unsuccessful) compared to those who ranked their marriage satisfaction very highly. The overall mortality was 19% higher among the unhappily married. The researchers note that the gaps were even larger among men who were relatively young (under 50) at the beginning of the study.
In addition, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of all known risk factors contributing to death from cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, excessive BMI, and socioeconomic status. Here, too, the data showed that the relative risk of death for any reason among the unhappily married was 1.21 higher than among those satisfied with their marriages. This rate is similar to data cited in medical literature regarding smokers and those leading a sedentary life.
Regardless of your current situation, remember that knowledge is power. Next time you go to the gym, perhaps you could make it a date?