How good is marriage for your mental health? What about the benefits of simply living together? The answers depend on whether you’re the woman or the man, says Michaela Benzeval of the University of London. She analyzed the results of a 10-year survey of nearly 5,000 people under age 65, one of the longest-running studies on the psychological effects of coupling. Her results contradict some well-established beliefs.
Women who remained in their first marriage, Benzeval found, were no happier than those who stayed single, although single women who experienced one or more subsequent splits were the least happy of all. Men in their first marriage showed a significant improvement in mood, but not as much as men who simply cohabited with the same woman for a long time. The happiest were men who had settled down with a new partner after having had two or more major relationship splits.
“We have longitudinal data, so we can look at the cumulative effects on health of different partnership histories,” Benzeval says. She is now trying to sort out the unexpected findings. Men probably fare better after many relationships because they tend to have access to more money, she suggests, while women whose marriages have dissolved often have to cope with the added responsibility of raising children.