Staying single can help you live longer

The idea that married people live longer than single people has been widely publicized. The research behind this makes sense. Married couples share finances and companionship, reducing stress. Theoretically, they also hug and hold hands more than single people, releasing powerful, health-giving oxytocins. However, the fact remains that about half of marriages in the United States end in divorce. And according to Bella DePaulo, PhD, this nullifies the reported health advantages of marriage.

Those who live the longest either marry and stay married, or stay single.

DePaulo says that claims of longevity due to marriage are based on studies that don’t count divorced or widowed people as ever having been married. “I call that statistical annulment,” she says. Furthermore, DePaulo sites the Terman Life-Cycle Study, which has been following 1,528 people since they were children in 1921. The study indicates that consistency is what really matters – those who live the longest either marry and stay married, or stay single. People who have been divorced had shorter lives.

The Side Effects of Divorce

No matter how amicably a married couple chooses to part ways, divorce is complicated and painful. It involves separation not just from a spouse, but a way of life, and in addition to the emotional shock, navigating a new path can be logistically time-consuming. It’s no shocker that divorce takes a toll on long-term health.

Eight side effects of divorce include: anxiety, drastic weight change, metabolic syndrome, depression, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, insomnia, chronic health and mobility issues.

San Francisco Bay Area-based photographer and graphic artist Cielo Delapaz is all too familiar with more than one of these health repercussions. A divorcee with two sons, Delapaz says she lost 20 pounds after her marriage dissolved, and her weight dropped to under 100 pounds. Physically recovering from drastic weight loss and other issues took years.

“I couldn’t eat or sleep,” Delapaz says. “It took a year to gain back some weight. The insomnia took a lot longer. It took about two years for me to be able to sleep well.” Delapaz, however, is one of the luckier ones. For others who are divorced, the health impact can last even longer.

“If you ignore your physical health by not exercising, eating right, or seeing the doctor when you are sick, that can have a lasting impact. And that is what people tend to do when they lose a marriage to divorce or death,” says Salynn Boyles.

In cases such as those described by Boyles, being divorced or widowed can lead to a 20 percent increase in developing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Given such powerful statistics, it’s a major oversight to study the health effects of marriage without counting individuals who have once been married.

Marriage Is a Mixed Bag

Outside of the divorce radar, marriage itself is a mixed bag, some being more stressful than others to include excessive arguing and recurring compatibility issues, which negatively impact health. The Huffington Post reports that unhappy marriages lead to a much higher risk for developing heart disease. Therefore, the quality of marriage should also be taken into account when assessing a marriage’s ability to boost lifespan.

And what about couples who live together, but aren’t married? Should they be included in studies of longevity associated with marriage? Marie Navarro*, who has been living with her long-term partner for nine years, thinks so.

“First of all, just like married couples, my partner and I nag and bicker and disagree over a number of issues,” Navarro says. “Secondly, we experience ups and downs (deaths in each of our families, health issues, financial issues, etc.), and we are there to support each other through the difficult times—physically and mentally. Thus, I feel that our long-term partnership can be as healthy, or unhealthy, as a marriage of a couple without children.”

Why Single and Healthy Works

DePaulo, who also happens to be the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, believes most people find their authentic selves while living single. According to Time, single people often exercise more and have more close friendships.

Oakland resident Frances Daré* has never been married and believes being single gives her more flexibility than her married friends. “You don’t have that much attachment,” Daré says of being single. “There’s less responsibility so that’s less stress. You can do things in the spur of the moment. This has its ups and downs… you can get lonely, but you’re free.”

Such factors can lead to greater health, but again, it all depends on the individual and the circumstances. For many people, the choice to remain single or marry will come naturally, because it’s part of who they are, or perhaps, it’s just the direction their lives have taken. We doubt you will decide on such a big decision based on one longevity theory—especially when there are so many out there. However, if you’re single, you should know that your married friends won’t necessarily outlive you.

                                                                                                             Morgan Cauch

                                                                                                            Morgan Cauch

As for Delapaz, she’s in no rush to remarry anytime soon but is still willing to take the risk for the right person. “I’m open to the idea of getting remarried at some point. It’s not necessarily my goal in life, but if the right guy comes along, and we have the same idea about the kind of life we want to live, I’m all for it. But … it’s hard to find the right kind of guy. After the divorce I’m less willing to compromise.”

Not compromising about who you marry is critical. Interestingly, statistics show that people who spend more on their weddings and engagement rings are more likely to divorce. It’s easy to get caught up in the frills of marriage without taking a closer look at whether or not the person you’re marrying is someone you should spend your life with. If they aren’t, you’re much better off flying solo—and you’ll probably live longer too.


*Names marked with an asterisk have been changed

title image by Thomas Hawk