Researchers have investigated why married people tend to live longer and have found that older couples are generally in better physical shape than single people, giving them more autonomy.
What if marriage is a life expectancy factor that is far too underestimated? A study conducted by researchers at University College London and published in PLOS One once again proves its importance. The latter consisted in analysing data from more than 20,000 people from an English study on ageing in 2008 and an American study on health and retirement between 2006 and 2008. The researchers were interested in two “indicator” measures of the physical ability of participants aged 60 and over, and therefore of their long-term health: walking speed and grip strength (the ability to grasp and squeeze objects with the hand).
Indeed, these measures are interesting to establish the current independence of individuals in their daily activities as well as their future health and mortality risk needs. For example, people with too low a grip force have more difficulty opening a jar, while those with too slow a walking speed may have difficulty crossing a pedestrian crossing in time. “Research has shown that married people are in better physical and mental health, but there is little evidence about the relationship between marriage and physical ability,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Natasha Wood.
Wealth gaps are the main cause
The main advantage of married people is that they are on average richer than those who are not and that increased wealth has been associated with better physical ability. “The results showed that, on average, men who were in their first marriage had a higher grip strength than widowed or never married men. Moreover, in both England and the United States, remarried men had an even stronger grip than married men only once. Moreover, in both countries, men also walked faster than widowed or single men.
The same is true for married women, both for walking speed and grip strength. “As more and more people enter old age as single or as a result of divorce or widowhood, these results mean that in the future more people can expect to have more difficulty with their daily activities in later life,” says Dr. Natasha Wood. As wealth gaps are one of the most important factors explaining this difference in physical ability between married and unmarried seniors, the researchers suggest that measures be put in place to improve their financial situation.
“This could help to ensure equality with married people in terms of their physical ability and the ability to live independently in the years to come,” they conclude. It should be noted that in France, INSEE also certifies that people living as a couple are less likely to die than those living alone and that a separation or death of the spouse is accompanied by an excess mortality rate. Because marital status and mortality risks share common origins. “The early death of those who have never lived together is the result of a combination of unfavourable health, social and professional factors that overlaps with their difficulty in starting a family,” explains the Institute.