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Social Factors Health - Marriage

age spouse widowed individuals support

On average, the health of those who are married is better than the health of individuals who live alone. Further, married individuals live longer than those who are not married. For older adults, the problems associated with being alone are mainly seen in those who are widowed, rather than in those who are divorced or who never married. Goldman, Korenman, and Weinstein (1995) found that for individuals age seventy and older, after taking into consideration self-rated health, functional ability, and medical conditions, widowhood predicts later disability for both men and women, and mortality for men. It is unlikely that the poorer health status of the widowed is due to the crisis of bereavement, because only 7 percent of the widowed in the sample had lost their spouse within two years of the initial interview. Rather, factors associated with being widowed and not remarrying appear to cause poorer health. However, the relationship between widowhood and mortality is only seen for men, and the relationship with disability is much stronger for men than for women. This may be because women are likely to serve as care-givers who monitor their husbands' health behaviors—after their wife's death, men lose an important source of instrumental support.

Marriage does seem to offer a distinct health benefit that the widowed do not enjoy. The protective aspect of marriage could occur because marriage acts as a form of social control that encourages individuals to engage in better health practices and less risky behavior. It could also be due to the social support that a spouse offers. A spouse can serve as a confidant who offers emotional support and practical advice in the face of a problem or stressor. In this way, a spouse serves as a buffer that protects the person from becoming affected by the stress caused by serious life events. Furthermore, support from the spouse can be helpful not only during serious problems, but also during everyday hassles and challenges. Aside from offering emotional and practical support in the face of difficulties, a spouse can serve as someone who offers love, care, and respect, as well as someone who encourages a healthy self-esteem. In addition to these benefits of marriage, it is also possible that the healthiest individuals are better able to remarry after losing a spouse, thereby letting their health status select them into their social position.

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