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SURVEY FINDS MARRIAGE, MONEY HELP LENGTHEN LIFE

SHARE SURVEY FINDS MARRIAGE, MONEY HELP LENGTHEN LIFE

Face it, fellows.

You really need money and a wife.Some men might quibble about the wife part, but two University of Utah researchers have concluded that unmarried and low-income American men experience two to nine times the risk of dying compared to their married and financially better off counterparts.

Either factor - poverty or the lack of a wife - can contribute to greater male mortality rates. But these researchers were looking at what happens when both factors are present - and the combination can be deadly.

"Being poor increases anyone's risk of mortality," said U. demographer Ken Smith. "Being single, divorced or widowed also increases your chances of death. But if you are both poor and unmarried, chances of death increase dramatically."

U. economist Norman Waitzman, who co-authored an article on the subject with Smith for the journal Demography, said they concluded that the interaction between the two factors was what heightened the risk.

Their analysis drew upon data gathered by the U.S. government in a survey titled, "The National Health and Nutrition Examination Study," that began in 1971 and tracked a nationally representative group of people for 16 years.

The information is quite complete, Smith said.

When participants first were interviewed in 1971, they also agreed to undergo full physicals, and the survey includes information about cholesterol levels, obesity, exercise habits and other information. Subsequently, participants received other, slightly less exhaustive physical checkups and that information is recorded. The survey also includes hospital records and death certificates.

As a result, investigators could factor out recognized risks such as smoking, lack of exercise, high cholesterol and hypertension.

Smith and Waitzman tracked the causes of death among 13,000 adults between the ages of 25 and 74, first looking at how marital status affects mortality, then the overall effects of poverty and finally the combined influence on mortality risk.

Their findings:

- Divorced or separated men under 65 had twice the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, cancer or an accident or violence when contrasted with married men. Never-married men had three times the risk of dying violently or accidentally than married men.

- Low-income widowed and divorced men have four to five times the death rate from heart disease and stroke as married men with more income.

- Low-income divorced or never-married men had nine times the risk of accidental or violent death.

Smith said it's hard to say which situation by itself - lack of money or lack of a wife - poses the greatest problem.

The study suggests that if poorer men - who have fewer health-enhancing resources - are married, their wives serve as an important source of social support that unmarried wealthier men lack.

"At least for mortality, one factor doesn't seem to compensate for the other," Smith said.

"On the marital side, there are two general points to make. When most adult men go looking for social support, it's most often their spouse. When the spouse is missing, a key component to what keeps us healthy is absent. In times of crisis, when there is great reliance on a spouse and spouse isn't there, your health status suffers accordingly," Smith said.

"Some would argue, and I would agree, that you don't need social support only in times of crisis. You benefit from it day in and day out. It helps sort out your life and keeps you directed on a larger goal - facilitating your marriage and family life," Smith said.

The ill effects of poverty seem pretty obvious when it comes to life-enhancing and life-extending matters. But Waitzman suggests that there could be more complex and subtle factors at work.

Poverty for men is especially problematic for many of them because their earning ability is inextricably tied to their sense of self.

"To be in poverty is a very stressful position to be in because that connection to the work force is very volatile," Waitzman said. "Marriage is a heart in a heartless world. To lose that heart, for men is potentially a hugely stressful loss, even more so than for women. The two together, poverty and being unmarried, create a synergistic effect among men and not as much among the women."

Smith and Waitzman plan next to look at how these factors affect women and the differences between the sexes. At this time, they can only speculate that women may be forming stronger social support networks outside marriage that sustain them in times of trouble, that women go to the doctor more frequently might nip serious illnesses in the bud or that adult children may be more inclined to take care of their mother.