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New twist to marriage and mortality.

New twist to marriage and mortality

Past research has shown that for men, tying the knot can offer a new lease on life -- or at least a longer one. But the life-extending advantage in marriage is not just a function of togetherness, a new study indicates. It found that even when they live with someone else, single American men of middle age are twice as likely as married men to die within 10 years.

Maradee A. Davis and her co-workers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) observed that among the 1,011 45- to 54-year-old men they studied, 23 percent of those living with family, "significant others" or other nonrelatives died within 10 years--a rate identical to that in men who lived alone. By contrast, 10.6 percent of the men living with wives died over the same period.

Single men who at the start of the study were in the next age bracket, 55 to 64, also had about twice the premature-death risk of married men the same age, Davis reported on Oct. 4 at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in New York City. She said these findings suggest "it's important, particularly for men who aren't married, to pay attention to healthy lifestyles."

Middle-aged women living with someone besides a spouse also faced double the risk of early death, the team found: 8.7 percent died within 10 years, compared to 4.3 percent of married women in this 45- to 54-year-old group. But above age 54, married and single women died at roughly the same rates.

The study indicates that living alone does not necessarily constitute a risk factor in itself, Davis says; the lack of a spouse appears the critical element. The UCSF group is now looking for socioeconomic, behavioral and medical explanations for its observations. For example, smoking and drinking habits may partially account for the higher early-mortality risk among bachelors, Davis says. Single men also have poor eating habits, she and her colleagues found in an earlier dietary study they conducted. As for the 45- to 54-year-old single women, Davis speculates that their higher risk of early death may result from the stress of their being low-income heads of household.

The UCSF scientists analyzed data collected between 1971 and 1975 by the National Center for Health Statistics in a national health and nutrition survey of 7,651 U.S. adults, with follow-ups from 1982 to 1984.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 27, 1990
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