Marriage and depression. Turns out, it’s not doled out equally. Researchers at the University of Calgary have found that when it comes to your chances of developing clinical depression, for men it’s better to be married, whereas for women, marriage brings with it a greater chance of depression.
The interconnections between health and relationship status are both complex and continually evolving, as cultural norms and society-wide patterns themselves change. Concerning physical health, research has shown that being married can lead to a longer life span. For instance, even as marriage brings with it a higher risk of weight gain, studies have shown that single people with lifestyle-based risk factors for conditions like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure have markedly higher mortality rates than married people with the same risk factors.
On the mental health front, past studies had consistently maintained that staying together had its benefits, as married people were said to have less chance for depression than those categorized as single, widowed, separated or divorced.
Yet, that association seems to be shifting, as witnessed by a recent study from Ohio State University, which found that while for older cohorts, marriage had a health-imparting effect, for the younger, newer generation of married couples, the health benefits of marriage are less strong compared to their single counterparts.
The change has been chalked up to a difference in social status for women (where today, being a single women has less of an economic downside as it did in the past) combined with a lack of societal taboo against being single today. Add to that the changing dynamics of the workplace and the clear advantages of the married life get erased, says the study’s author, Dmitry Tumin, sociologist at Ohio State.
Depression and marriage
“Against a backdrop of greater demands at home and at work, and less time spent together, today’s married couples may indeed experience marriage more as a source of conflict and stress than as a resource that safeguards their health,” says Tumin.
The difference in the health effects of marriage is confirmed in a study by researchers from the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary who used a cross-sectional analysis of Canadian national health surveys to draw conclusions on the connection between aging, marriage and depression. The researchers found that for older Canadians, being single or even living in common-law relationships is more strongly associated with depression than it is for younger single or common-lawed people, whereas the chances of having depression decreased with age for non-coupled people, in other words those who are widowed, separated or divorced.
“To our knowledge, it has not been reported before that common-law and single people share an increasing vulnerability to depression with age,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. “It may be that young people are more socialized to unmarried status, i.e., that being young and single is socially acceptable.”
The study also found that for women, being married brings about with it a stronger risk of depression than being single, widowed or separated, whereas this is not the case for men. The researchers explain the contrast as resulting from differences in support networks for men and women.
“Females have larger and stronger social support networks than men, whereas men often report their wives to be their chief source of social support,” they writs. “This may explain why single, widowed and divorced females are less vulnerable to development of depression that males.”