Since the early 1970s, social scientists have found that marriage benefits the health of men more than women, but new research in the September Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Vol. 49, No. 3) suggests this is changing: Single men are now almost as healthy as their wedded counterparts.

Michigan State University sociologist Hui Liu, PhD, examined National Health Interview Survey data gathered between 1972 and 2003—a sample that includes information from more than 1 million men and women—and found that never-married men increasingly report good health at rates similar to those of married men over time, suggesting that wedded bliss may no longer improve men's health as much as it once did. Liu says this may be due to the fact that men's never-married status may now be less stigmatized or because single men increasingly have access to rich networks of friends and family, which allow them to find more social support outside of marriage.

The shift, Liu notes, may provoke changes to programs and policies designed to encourage marriage.

"Actually, getting married greatly increases one's chance of being divorced or widowed, which our results show hurts people's health today much more than 30 years ago," Liu says.

She suggests this may be because people are now living longer than in the 1970s, which can increase marriage duration and lead to greater stress when one partner dies.

—A. Novotney