University of Warwick researchers Professor Andrew Oswald and Dr Jonathan Gardner examined the data from the British Household Panel survey a nationally representative sample of over 5,000 British households containing over 10,000 adults who had been studied annually from 19912000. The researchers looked at those whose mortality status was known in the year 2000. They also looked at 2518 people from the British Retirement Survey.
They found that, after factoring out all other influences, married men in the sample were 6.1% per cent less likely to die over the period than unmarried men. This effect was smaller for women. Married women were 2.9% less likely to die than unmarried women.
This bonus in male longevity more than compensates for the increased chance of dying from smoking as the researchers found male smokers in their sample were 5.8% more likely to die early and female smokers from the sample were 5.1% more likely to die.
Why might marriage be so protective? The researchers speculate that firstly it may reduce stress and stress-related illness (perhaps as a result of greater support and social integration); secondly, marriage may encourage healthy types of behaviour, and discourage risky or unhealthy ones (drinking, substance abuse, etc). A spouse also makes it more likely that the individual receives adequate care in times of illness.
The researchers found that high income had a negligible effect in keeping people alive. Professor Oswald said: "Forget cash. It is as clear as day from the data that marriage, rather than money, is what keeps people alive. It makes perfect sense to ask how a ring of gold can possibly do this. But the honest answer is: we just don't know."'"/>