Marital Status and Women's Health Revisited: The Importance of a Proximate Adult

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Married persons have consistently been found to be healthier than the nonmarried, with the nonmarried ranked in order of health from the never-married through the widowed to the divorced and separated. It is suggested here that marriage is positively related to health partly through social ties and social regulation. If so, then living with other adult(s) may serve as a functional alternative in maintaining health. Data on women of working age (18-55) from the 1979 National Health Interview Survey were used to test this hypothesis for three measures of health status and three of illness behavior. Living with a proximate adult was related to fewer acute conditions and to a lower frequency of illness behavior. When the effect of the presence of a proximate adult was controlled, the excess acute and chronic morbidity and excess illness behavior of the divorced and separated disappeared; the excess illness behavior of the widowed disappeared; formerly married women reported fewer net visits to the doctor than the married; and the illness behavior of the never-married decreased. It is thus suggested that social statuses and arrangements affect illness behavior more than they affect health status. Implications for social integration and social regulation theory are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Marriage and the Family
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 1989


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