Marriage is good for you

Married people live longer, have better and more frequent sex, drink less, take fewer drugs, are happier overall and end up with more money in the bank. 

This cheery view comes from Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, who believes matrimony has gotten a bad rap.

Her research contradicts at least half the findings of a much-publicised 1972 study that said marriage was a good deal for men but not for women. 

That study's author and researcher, Jessie Bernard, claimed married men had a lower incidence of mental illness and depression, but that the reverse was true for married women. 

Waite, who happens to be married, disagrees. "The data just isn't the same as it was in the early '70's," she says. 

While Bernard believed that single women were better off, Waite's research shows that a good marriage is the key to physical and emotional well-being. 

"A few years ago, I started doing research on mortality and followed men and women in and out of marriages," she says. "Those who divorced and stayed unmarried increased their chances of dying, while those who tied the knot again lived longer." 

Since then, Waite has compiled other studies on sexual activity, general health, wealth, employment and career status that bolster her findings on the merits of marriage. 

They show:

Married people are happier with their sex lives.

"We think married people have the boring, predictable sex and single people have the passion," Waite says. "But marrieds report more physical and emotional satisfaction."

Married men and women are less likely to drink heavily or use recreational drugs.

Kids raised in two-parent families are better off emotionally, and the family as a whole is more stable.

Married people have more money. "Couples over 50 have assets of roughly $64 000 per person," says Waite. "The worst off are separated people, who tend to have assets of about $7 000." People 50 and older who never married, she says, average only $40 000 in assets.

Women who choose a career over marriage make more money, but they have less in the bank, Waite says. "It really is cheaper to be married," Waite says. "And marriage encourages you to save and accumulate. You don't go to Cancun or buy new furniture. You put away money for college tuition and for your own retirement." 

Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher calls Waite's research "intriguing." 

"It's clear we are built to bond," says Fisher, author of The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Change the World. "After all, 97 percent of mammals do not pair up to raise their young. Only humans do." 

But in the new century, Fisher wonders if new trends and realities may affect our view of marriage and its long-term desirability. 

"We have a huge baby-boomer generation moving into middle age," says Fisher, "and we're going to hear a lot about strong women and the benefits of being single. Why? Because of the changes that come about with menopause.

"As levels of oestrogen go down, the natural levels of testosterone in women are unmasked," she says. 

As a result, Fisher adds, women "become more assertive and independent. 

"Right now, it's true that married women are more secure economically," she says. "But the environment is changing. Many single women are finding that they can lead good, productive lives." - updated April 2011

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