Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study, said sociologists since the 1970s have emphasized that marriage benefits health more so for men than for women. But their recent research showed that the health of people who never marry is improving, suggesting that the practice of encouraging marriage to promote health may be misguided.
"Married people are still healthier than unmarried people, but the gap between the married and never-married is closing, especially for men," Liu said
For the study, researchers analyzed National Health Interview Survey data from that period and found that while the self-reported health of married people is still better than that of the never-married, the gap has closed considerably.
The trend is due almost exclusively to a marked improvement in the self-reported health of never-married men.
Liu said that might be partly because never-married men have greater access to social resources and support that historically were found in a spouse.
Further, the study showed that the health status of the never-married has improved for all race and gender groups examined: men, women, blacks and whites.
"Politicians and scholars continue to debate the value of marriage for Americans with some going so far as to establish social programs and policies to encourage marriage among those socials groups less inclined to marry, particularly the poor and minorities," the authors said.
However, the study findings "highlight the complexity of this issue" and suggest "encouraging marriage in order to promote health may be misguided."
On contrary, the self-reported health for the widowed, divorced and separated worsened from 1972 to 2003 relative to their married peers.
This held true for both men and women, although the widening gaps between the married and the previously married groups are more pronounced for women than for men.
The study will appear in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.