Tag Archives: marriage

Health Effects of Marriage

There are wide-ranging health benefits to be gained from being happily married, the research suggests, but just how extensive this effect is (and its intricacies) is hugely surprising.

In Tara Parker-Pope’s comprehensive look at the physiological effects of marriage, we are told how just by getting couples to discuss a marital disagreement their healing of wounds can be delayed by days; that those in unhappy relationships have weakened immune systems; and most surprisingly that when women were subjected to mild electric shocks (to simulate stress) holding the hand of their husbands “resulted in a calming of the brain regions associated with pain similar to the effect brought about by use of a pain-relieving drug”.

[Studies] have shown that married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer or have heart attacks. A group of Swedish researchers has found that being married or cohabiting at midlife is associated with a lower risk for dementia. A study of two dozen causes of death in the Netherlands found that in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths like homicide and car accidents to certain forms of cancer, the unmarried were at far higher risk than the married.

What if you get divorced or are widowed? Remarriage won’t help and you will suffer “a decline in physical health from which [you will] never fully recover”. In these cases even the singletons fared better (traditionally considered to be worse-off due to having fewer resources and less emotional and logistical support).

How different styles of conflict (and conflict resolution) affected the sexes differently was fascinating, too:

The women in his study who were at highest risk for signs of heart disease were those whose marital battles lacked any signs of warmth, not even a stray term of endearment during a hostile discussion […] or a minor pat on the back or squeeze of the hand, all of which can signal affection in the midst of anger. “Most of the literature assumes that it’s how bad the arguments get that drives the effect, but it’s actually the lack of affection that does it […] It wasn’t how much nasty talk there was. It was the lack of warmth that predicted risk.”

For men, on the other hand, hostile and negative marital battles seemed to have no effect on heart risk. Men were at risk […] when their marital spats turned into battles for control. It didn’t matter whether it was the husband or wife who was trying to gain control of the matter; it was merely any appearance of controlling language that put men on the path of heart disease.

In both cases, the emotional tone of a marital fight turned out to be just as predictive of poor heart health as whether the individual smoked or had high cholesterol. […] The solution, Smith noted, isn’t to stop fighting. It’s to fight more thoughtfully.

via Mind Hacks

A Summary of Happiness Research

David Brooks brings ‘happiness research’ back to the wider public’s attention with a succinct summary of research into what does and does not make us happy:

Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? […]

If you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Brooks goes on to look at the confusing correlations between happiness and wealth before discussing the wider “correspondence between personal relationships and happiness”:

The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

via Fred Wilson

I discussed the ‘commuters paradox’ last year, noting that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office”.

Marriage as Scope Creep

Even though married life was progressing well and all involved were happy, Elizabeth Weil decided to actively apply herself to “the project of being a spouse” and to document the process.

Weil’s article is slow to start but becomes an absorbing inquiry in to what it means to be married.

I’ve never really believed that you just marry one day at the altar or before a justice of the peace. I believe that you become married — truly married — slowly, over time, through all the road-rage incidents and precolonoscopy enemas, all the small and large moments that you never expected to happen and certainly didn’t plan to endure. But then you do: you endure.

via Marginal Revolution

In a similarly absorbing manner, Jonah Lehrer discusses the concept of marriage from a neuropsychological perspective:

The only problem with this romantic myth is that passion is temporary. It inevitably decays with time. This is not a knock against passion – this is a basic fact of our nervous system. We adapt to our pleasures; we habituate to delight. In other words, the same thing happens to passionate love that happens to Christmas presents. We’re so impossibly happy and then, within a matter of days or weeks or months, we take it all for granted.

Choosing a Marriage Partner

When you’re looking, here are a few tips on choosing a marriage partner to increase your happiness and marriage longevity, from a summary of the research by Eric Barker:

  • There is mutual idealisation: “Spouses who idealized one another were more in love with each other as newlyweds. Longitudinal analyses suggested that spouses were less likely to suffer declines in love when they idealized one another as newlyweds. Newlywed levels of idealization did not predict divorce.” (Source)
  • Your partner has high self-esteem: On explicit measures of positive illusions, high self-esteem people continue to compensate for costs. However, cost-primed low self-esteem people correct and override their positive implicit sentiments when they have the opportunity to do so. Such corrections put the marriages of low self-esteem people at risk: Failing to compensate for costs predicted declines in satisfaction over a 1-year period. (Source)
  • The male has a high socio-economic status: Previous studies in developed-world populations have found that fathers become more involved with their sons than with their daughters and become more involved with their children if they are of high socioeconomic status (SES) than if they are of low SES. […] High-SES fathers [make] more difference to [their] child’s IQ by their investment than low-SES fathers do. The effects of paternal investment on the IQ and social mobility of sons and daughters were the same. (Source)
  • Your partner is conscientious and slightly neurotic: Conscientiousness [demonstrates] a compensatory effect, such that husbands’ conscientiousness predicted wives’ health outcomes above and beyond wives’ own personality. The same pattern held true for wives’ conscientiousness as a predictor of husbands’ health outcomes. Furthermore, conscientiousness and neuroticism acted synergistically, such that people who scored high for both traits were healthier than others. Finally, we found that the combination of high conscientiousness and high neuroticism was also compensatory, such that the wives of men with this combination of personality traits reported better health than other women. (Source)
  • Avoid ‘cheaters’ by trusting your instincts: The results of these experiments suggest that cheaters might look different from cooperators, possibly due to beliefs and personality traits that make them less ideal exchange partners, and the human mind might be capable of picking up on subtle visual cues that cheaters’ faces give off. (Source)
  • The female is the most attractive partner: Relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives. (Source)
  • The female’s parents are not divorced: Results demonstrated that women’s, but not men’s, parental divorce was associated with lower relationship commitment and lower relationship confidence. These effects persisted when controlling for the influence of recalled interparental conflict and premarital relationship adjustment. The current findings suggest that women whose parents divorced are more likely to enter marriage with relatively lower commitment to, and confidence in, the future of those marriages, potentially raising their risk for divorce. (Source)

via @charliehoehn

Ability to Inhibit Prejudices Diminishes with Age

As we age we become less able to inhibit prejudiced inferences, relying more on ethnic and sexist stereotypes to interpret situations, research into the science of prejudice suggests.

There are a lot of clichés thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be true—or at least is backed up by research—is the belief they tend to be more prejudiced than younger people. This phenomenon—noted in The New York Times as early as 1941—is widely assumed to be the result of socialization. After all, today’s senior citizens grew up in an era when racism was widespread and gays stayed in the closet. Of course they aren’t as open-minded as their children and grandchildren.

A decade ago, a research team led by William von Hippel of the University of Queensland challenged that assumption. The psychologists proposed that older people may exhibit greater prejudice because they have difficulty inhibiting the stereotypes that regularly get activated in all of our brains. They suggested an aging brain is not as effective in suppressing unwanted information—including stereotypes.

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that current marriage equality acceptance in the U.S. decreases with age, suggesting that equal marriage rights are inevitable as the older generations cease to have voting power and/or die. When I consider this in light of the above, however, I wonder if this really is the case?

via Intelligent Life

The abstracts of the two papers discussed in this article: Stereotype Activation, Inhibition, and Aging and Aging and Stereotype Suppression.