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.