PHILADELPHIA - You’ve heard them all, I’m sure; jokes like, “Marriage is an institution in which a man loses his Bachelor’s Degree and the woman gets her Master’s” or “Marriage is something that puts one ring on a woman's finger and two under a man’s eyes.”
There are a million of them, and they all play on the idea that the men who are foolish enough to wave goodbye to their carefree bachelor days and submit to marriage are getting a raw deal.
The jokes are pretty damn funny, but the reality is quite different. In fact, both sexes benefit enormously from the institution of marriage, but men benefit more.
Both men and women gain significant health benefits from being married – they live longer, heal quicker, and have less illness. Married people also tend to earn more money, and to build more wealth than single people. Overall, however, men tend to benefit much more from matrimony than women do.
Let’s take a look at the various ways in which marriage can enhance a person’s quality of life, and see how men in particular benefit from the institution.
1. Married people live longer than single people.
We’ve known about the longevity advantage since the 1850s, when a British epidemiologist called William Farr examined French records and found that the single and the widowed died much younger than their married peers (and the widowed died younger than the single).
However, since then, more sophisticated research has shown that the longevity benefits of marriage are much greater for men. Studies show that single women have a mortality rate that is 50% higher than married women (that is, in a given year, single women will die at a 50% higher rate than married ones), which is pretty significant. Single men, however, have a mortality rate that is 250% higher than married men – a much greater difference.
Put another way, research indicates that nine of ten married men and women who are alive at age 48 are alive at age 65, while only eight of ten single women and six of ten single men make it to that age – a disproportionate benefit goes to married men.
2. Married people experience less depression, stress, and have fewer vices
A large-scale, multinational study involving the World Health Organisation found that marriage reduces the risk of most mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, for both sexes; this study echoes findings from many similar, but smaller studies over the years.
Yet again, however, men seem to get more of a benefit. According to researchers, men are less likely to become depressed during their first marriage than women are. Married men are half as likely to commit suicide as single men, and one third as likely as divorced men (the differences are smaller for women).
Men also seem to get more of a de-stressing benefit from marriage than women do; a 2010 study found that married men had smaller spikes in cortisol levels (the hormone that is an indicator of chronic stress problems) than single men after taking part in a competitive game, whereas single and married women had similar cortisol increases. Unsurprisingly, men also tend to benefit more from vice-reduction after marriage – single men drink and smoke more than married men and married and single women, and take more drugs.
3. Married people earn more.
A study in the US showed that overall, married people earn more than single people, but once again men benefit more; married men earn between 10 and 40% more than single men, while married women without kids earn 4 to 10% more than their single childless sisters (after having kids, married women earn less than single women without children).
4. Married people are happier
Many studies have shown that married people report greater levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives than single people do, but, you guessed it, men once again do better than women. According to a study from Australia, for example, married men are 135% more likely to report a high happiness score than single men, while married women are only 52% happier than their unmarried counterparts. Another study, this one from the US, found that 38% of men say it’s easier for a married person to find happiness than a single person, while only 22% of women feel that way.
Overall, then, men benefit much more than women from the trip down the aisle. While both sexes enjoy significant benefits, the gap between single men and married men, in terms of health, wealth, and happiness, is much greater than the gap between single and married women. In the words of Shakespeare’s Benedick, “Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife.”