We have been looking at whether marriage is good or toxic for women. Let’s look at the impact of marriage on the mental health of women. Specifically, we’ll look closely at depression because it affects about 20 million adults in the U.S. alone and is therefore one of its most common diseases. The bad news here is that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Depression has been widely studied and has been found to correlate very highly with other markers of mental health of women.
Research done in the 1970s claimed that married women were more depressed than single women or married men. Is that still true today? The short answer is, no.
In 2007, using data from the largest national studies ever done[i] researchers found that marriage reduces the blues in both men and women. Here’s the skinny:
- In studies of those continuously married versus, those single or living together, researchers found that entry into marriage significantly reduces depressive symptoms in women (and men).
- Those who were single and stable reported increases in depression over a five-year period while the married women did not.
- Depression doesn’t seem to be a factor in who gets married. In other words, the problem of self-selection in experimental designs doesn’t appear to screw up the results.
- In short, we now know that a stable marriage helps women ward off the blues. Other studies[ii] show that when we look at overall mental health, married women are emotionally healthier than singles.
What about the argument that marriage is better for men than it is for women? We know that married men are far better off than single men. Granted, men may benefit from marriage even more than women, but those differences can be accounted for by the nature of male single life: the bachelor tends to have more unhealthy habits and is less likely to have emotional social support than the bachelorette. So when he marries, he steps up to a much healthier lifestyle.
Single women on the other hand, are not significantly different in their lifestyles than their married counterparts. So where do married women suffer relative to singles? In two areas: when they are in bad marriages or when they have kids. It’s as simple as that. Women in bad marriages report having trouble sleeping, not feeling OK and being more stressed than gals who say they are in a satisfying marriage. This is true even when studies controlled for being prone to depression or having kids. In other words a good marriage may contribute a lot more to a woman’s well-being than we previously thought. More on this later.
As to having kids, women with young kids have more stress than women without kids. Duh! Oh, and they feel they have no time for themselves, for self-caretaking, so they report more stress. Duh, duh!
If you’re looking to have kids, be prepared for a heck of a lot more responsibility and a more stressful life than being single without kids. If you are married and one of those lucky few who have a house husband, you’ll have more responsibility outside the home and have the privilege of feeling guilty about being a “bad mom.” There’s no winning here ladies—stress comes along with young kids and teenagers. Of course, if you’re a single mother with kids, countless studies have shown that your stress level is much higher than marrieds with kids or singles with no kids.
Nonetheless, here’s the bottom line: Contrary to myth, a stable marriage tends to be emotionally uplifting for women and improves the mental health of women. It reduces depression and improves overall mental health. Does it help men even more? Yeah, but what woman didn’t know that?
So stay tuned for more on this Dating Advice for Women Series!
Wishing you love,
[i] See R. G. Wood, B. Goesling & S. Avellar (2007) The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence. This is a meta-analysis of 70 studies. Available at http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/marriagehealth.pdf
[ii] For a list of references contact the author.