Is marriage good for your health?
Research suggests that yes, it is.
Married people live longer, have better access to health care, enjoy a more satisfying sex life, experience less stress, live a healthier lifestyle, and have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and depression compared to their single counterparts.
But there's a catch—men and women don't get the same or equal benefits from a legally sanctioned pairing.
A man's sex life is likely to improve more than a woman's after getting married, for instance, a woman risks of depression tends to decrease more than her partner's when she's in a long-term relationship.
And in reality, getting hitched may not be strictly necessary.
Women and men can reap some health benefits just by living together, or even by being in a stable long-term relationship, research suggests.
Marriage offers the ultimate health benefit: a longer life.
Compared to their unwed counterparts, married people have longer average life spans and are drastically less likely to die at an early age.
Marriage is especially good at warding off fatal accidents, violence, and other semi-avoidable calamities, which are more common in younger people, says Michael Murphy, PhD, a professor of demography at the London School of Economics.
But regardless of age, men's life span appears to benefit more from marriage than women's.
One reason marriage may prolong life is that it appears to lower a person's risk of serious disease.
Rates of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, lung disease, and other chronic ailments are all lower in married people than in unmarried people.
(Notably, cancer is not on the list.)
For most diseases, the decrease in risk associated with marriage is roughly the same for men as for women.
While married men are three times less likely to die from heart disease than men who have never tied the knot, marriage only halves the risk of cardiac death for women, according to a 2009 study.
Bachelors tend to lead less healthy lifestyles than unmarried women, and are more apt to smoke, drink too much, and indulge in other vices.
Although relationship status appears to have less of an effect on cigarette smoking, notable gender differences exist here as well.
A woman who marries a smoker is more likely to start smoking herself, but the opposite doesn't hold.
Simply put, women may be a better influence on men than vice versa.
Wives tend to be the more emotionally supportive partner and are more likely to encourage their husbands to refrain from drinking or smoking.
Although people love to complain that their significant others are driving them crazy, companionship actually tends to be good for mental health—especially for women.
This is particularly true when it comes to depression, which is roughly twice as common in women.
Marriage also appears to be a stabilizing force in women with bipolar disorder.
Married bipolar women have fewer and milder depressive episodes than their never-married counterparts, but the same trend is not found in bipolar men.
Living with a partner seems to be just as beneficial to a woman's mental health as marriage.
Contrary to popular belief, men tend to get stressed out more easily than women.
Lab experiments have shown that when given a stressful task, men exhibit greater spikes in the stress hormone cortisol than women.
Fortunately for men, being in a romantic relationship—not just marriage—may curb their stress response.
One area where marriage appears to actually harm health is the waistline.
While both men and women in long-term relationships tend to gain weight, women appear to gain a bit more weight on average after marriage than men—even if they don't have children.
But the catch is that more men than women cross over into the dangerous categories of overweight and obese following marriage.
This could be because women are more likely than men to be underweight going into marriage, so they can afford the extra pounds more than their groom can.
Although unmarried couples living together also gain weight, and women gain more than men, the weight gain is less pronounced than in married couples.
Being in a solid relationship actually tends to be good for your sex life (at least for the first decade or two).
Married and cohabiting couples both have more sex than people who are single or dating, and married people in particular report more satisfying sex lives than their counterparts who are dating or shacking up.
Still, where sex is concerned, marriage appears to be a better deal for men.
Women's sex lives aren't as fulfilling as men's in marriage "because they often have resentment in inequities in domestic duties that still exist, [and] they feel they don't get the appreciation they deserve," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Married people are more financially stable than their single counterparts.
And even though more women than ever before have college degrees and are the main breadwinners in their household, marriage still tends to mean a bigger step up for women than it is for men.
Even though the nature of relationships and marriage is changing with the times, the impact of relationships on health measures such as life span has remained largely steady.