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Marriage leads to better overall health, scholar says

PROVO, Utah — There's a lot to be said for saying "I do."

And it goes beyond the romantic notions of happily ever after.

How about healthily, wealthily ever after?

Married

people have higher levels of physical, emotional and cognitive health,

along with greater earning potential, a sociologist told a group at BYU

last week.

Linda Waite, a professor

of sociology from the University of Chicago, provided hard data for the

often emotionally fueled arguments in favor of traditional marriage at

the sixth annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture.

"What I argue, and in my view, the research evidence supports, is that marriage itself changes people's choices," Waite said.

When their choices change, their behavior changes, which results in greater health.

"(Using

the) most basic fundamental health indicator, it's very clear that

married people are advantaged," she said, showing a graph with

life-expectancy lines for men and women that were higher for married

individuals than their single, widowed or divorced counterparts.

And this refers to traditional marriages, she said, not cohabitation, marriage-like arrangements or alternatives to marriage.

But

being married doesn't just help you live longer. Other graphs showed

higher levels of mental health and cognitive function for married

couples than for single people living alone, with other adults or with

their own children.

"It's clear

that for both men and women, marriage improves mental health," Waite

said. "And it declines when they lose a marriage."

In

fact, divorce or widowhood is so stressful that "being divorced or

widowed leaves a mark on physical health even years later," she said.

Although

remarrying improves mental health, it can't make up for the damaging

periods of poor sleep, nutrition and exercise during a stressful time,

Waite said.

Marriage also benefits

the parties financially, as women have someone to provide for them and

their children, and men earn more money than they did when they were

single, because of an improved work ethic.

Those findings are nothing new to BYU professors, who study social trends of marriage and family through the LDS lens.

"Obviously

at BYU, there's a religious motivation behind the importance of

marriage," said Renata Forste, a sociology professor who studied in

Chicago, where she met Waite. "But there's also empirical evidence that

shows that married people do better."

Lectures

like Waite's build on the legacy of Sister Hinckley and her focus on

the family through research and education, said Stephen Bahr, a

professor of sociology at BYU who is on the Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Advisory Committee responsible for arranging the lectures.

"Rather

than simply advocating a position is to focus on the research," Bahr

said. "As students learn to do good research, the research will speak

for itself, as hers did."

And the

more people who understand the scientifically proven benefits of

marriage, not only for them, but for society in general, the more

attitudes will hopefully shift to being protective and supportive of

traditional marriage, Waite said.

"The

most important thing is to speak up, in love, for the truth about

marriage," said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National

Organization for Marriage and co-author with Waite on the book, "The

Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and

Better Off Financially."

"Right now,

it's less about which arguments are more or less effective than it is

about the attempt to intimidate or embarrass marriage supporters into

silence," Gallagher told the Deseret News, "especially those of us who

believe marriage is and should remain in America the union of one man

with one woman."

Gallagher said it's important to talk to children, siblings, friends and family members about why marriage matters so much.

"We

tend to raise kids to be good workers and students," she said. "We need

to raise them as well to be and to value being good husbands and wives,

because children need moms and dads they can count on."

"Why Marriage Matters"

In

2002, a group of family scholars, including Linda Waite, produced a

report, "Why Marriage Matters," sponsored by the Institute for American

Values.

  • In the report, they summarized three fundamental conclusions about marriage:Marriage is an important social good.
  • Marriage is an important public good.
  • The benefits of marriage extend to poor and minority communities.

To read more, visit center.americanvalues.org/?p=7 or www.americanvalues.org/pdfs/wmmexsumm.pdf.


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com