Could Staying Single Hurt Your Health?

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on June 12, 2015

June 12, 2015 -- Being married or living with your partner may have health perks, while going it alone may worsen your odds of having certain problems as you age.

A new study shows that middle-aged women who had never married had an increased risk of heart disease and breathing problems, but to a lesser extent than unmarried men.

The study looked at more than 10,000 people born in England, Scotland, and Wales in the spring of 1958. Their relationship statuses were checked when they were 23, 33, 42, and 46. Nurses visited them at home to do health checks when they were between 44 and 46.

The researchers found that:

  • About two-thirds of male and female participants married in their 20s and early 30s, and remained married into their mid 40s.
  • More than 8% of men and 6% of women married in their 20s or early 30s, then later divorced, then remarried or lived together.
  • More than 11% of men and 12% of women had never married or lived together.
  • Middle-aged men and women who've been through a separation, divorce, and remarriage are just as healthy as couples in stable relationships.
  • People who've divorced and remarried were no more likely than those who stayed married to have heart or breathing problems early in middle age.
  • Couples who married in their 20s and early 30s, and stayed married, were in almost the same health as unmarried couples living together.
  • Men and women who had neither married nor lived with a partner had the worst health in middle age, with a higher risk of heart and breathing problems.

The study was done by the University College London Institute of Education, London School of Economics, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Starting Another Relationship Helps

"For those people who experience separation and divorce, it appears that as long as they begin another relationship, their health does not suffer in the long term," says the study's lead author, George Ploubidis, PhD, a scientist at UCL.

What might explain the link between your relationship status and your health? For starters, your partner can encourage you to keep up good habits (like exercise) and can give you emotional support when times get tough, Ploubidis says past research shows.

"A couple's income also appears to play an important role in affecting health," he says.

"Previous research has also shown that men experience an initial decline after divorce, but we found that in the long term they tend to revert back to their pre-divorce health status. Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle-age compared to those who were married."

Show Sources


News release, UCL Institute for Education.

American Journal of Public Health: "Life-Course Partnership Status and Biomarkers in Midlife: Evidence From the 1958 British Birth Cohort."

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