(NaturalNews) People who are not married and who do not have a permanent partner are significantly more likely to die prematurely during middle age and people in permanent partnerships, according to a study conducted by Duke University researchers and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
The researchers analyzed information from 4802 participants in the ongoing North Carolina Alumni Heart Study (UNCAHS) of people born in the 1940s. In particular, they examined data on marital and non-marital status during the middle years, controlled for differences in socioeconomic status, risky behaviors and personality at college entry (at about age 18).
They found that people who had never been married were twice as likely to die during middle age as those who had been in a stable marriage for their whole adult lives. People who had lost a partner but not remarried were also significantly more likely to die prematurely than those in long-term marriages, even after adjustment for potential confounding risk factors.
Death in middle age was considered to be premature death, since a healthy person would be expected to live longer.
"Our results suggest that attention to non-marital patterns of partnership is likely to become more important for these Baby Boomers," the researchers wrote.
"These patterns appear to provide different levels of emotional and functional social support, which has been shown to be related to mortality. Social ties during midlife are important to help us understand premature mortality."
The importance of social ties
The findings are consistent with prior research linking social ties in general, and marriage in particular, with longevity in various populations. For example, a 2010 study published in PLoS Medicine reviewed 148 prior studies on the connection between social relationships and mortality, consisting of a total of 308,000 participants followed for an average of 7.5 years each. They found that the stronger a person's social relationships, the more likely they were to survive over that time period. The researchers behind the analysis suggested that social ties help people deal with stress better, imbue life with more meaning, and may even encourage healthier behaviors.
Other studies have shown differing results depending on whether a marriage is happy or unhappy, however. For example, a 2008 study conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that happily married people had lower blood pressure compared not just with single people, but also with people who were unhappily married. And a 2009 study found that unhappy marriages increased both partners' risk of depression, while also increasing women's risk of symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome, a major risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This was consistent with prior findings that unhappy marriages may actually harm people's health.
Yet in the new study, it was the fact of being married itself - not just being happily married - that was associated with longer life. Further research will be necessary to tease apart whether even unhappy marriages provide longevity benefits, or whether some more complex effect is at work.