Alone at Midlife – the Health Deficit

In recent decades, demographers have tracked a remarkable upturn in the fraction of Americans living alone, an upturn largely attributable to a tumbling marriage rate and a stubbornly high divorce rate. Some progressive commentators have actually celebrated this development as a manifestation of the triumph of American individualism. But a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health makes that upturn look like a sure portent of widespread health problems. Written by a team of researchers at University College London, this new study examines the relationship between partnership status over the life course and health in middle age. Using sophisticated twenty-first-century statistical and medical tools, these researchers confirm a very old truth: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18, D-RV). To be sure, even if they had not read the Bible recently, the authors of the new study launched their inquiry fully aware that “numerous studies have found that married people have better health and lower mortality than unmarried people, and these findings have been replicated in different countries and time periods.” But these earlier studies left unanswered questions about “the mechanisms that link marital status and health . . . [about] the operation of health-protective effects of marriage, and [about] the accumulation of benefits and risks of marital status trajectories over the life course.” The researchers also felt a need to probe deeper into the matter of possible “health-related selection into various marital statuses.” This question of selection is critically important for determining whether marriage actually does protect men and women from ill health. The supposed protective effect of wedlock looks weak or nonexistent if careful statistical analysis reveals that poor health “selects” people into an unmarried status and good health “selects” people into marriage in the first place. To assess the relatio
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