Marriage is good, downsides when it fails: Study

Painting by Pauline Bellamy.
Painting by Pauline Bellamy.
Getting married is good for you, according a New Zealand-led international study of nearly 35,000 people across 15 countries.

Tying the knot was positive for the mental health of both men and women, reducing the risks of the likelihood of most mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, the study found.

The world-first study, led by clinical psychologist Kate Scott from the University of Otago, Wellington, was based on World Health Organisation mental health surveys across developing and developed countries in the past decade, and published in the UK journal Psychological Medicine.

By contrast, separation, divorce or being widowed was associated with substantially increased risk of mental health disorders in both genders; particularly substance abuse for women and depression for men.

"One of the more important findings is that in recent years it has been asserted that marriage is better for men than for women in terms of mental health. This study does not agree with that position," Dr Scott said.

"We found that compared to never getting married, getting married is good for both men and women in terms of most mental health disorders."

However, the study did find that men were less likely to become depressed in their first marriage than women.

Dr Scott said this may be linked to traditional gender roles in the home.

Significant gender role differences in the home could have an effect on mental health problems for married women.

The other gender difference the study found was that getting married reduced risk of substance use disorders more for women than for men. Dr Scott said this could be explained by the fact that women are usually the primary caregiver for young children. A number of international studies have shown that women's consumption of alcohol dropped sharply when they become pregnant, and this restraint often continued into early childcare.

On the downside, the study showed that ending marriage can increase the risk of mental health problems. Being separated, divorced or widowed was associated with increased risk of all mental health disorders in both men and women; particularly with depression in men and substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) in women.

"What our study points to is that the marital relationship offers a lot of mental health benefits for both men and women, and that the distress and disruption associated with ending marriage can make people vulnerable to developing mental disorders."

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