Established with Adam and Eve, still surviving, marriage is the oldest institution known. Often the climax of most romantic movies and stories, whether it may be ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Dil Wale Dulhaniya Ley Jaein Gey’, marriage has a universal appeal. It continues to be the most intimate social network, providing the strongest and most frequent opportunity for social and emotional support. Though, over the years, marriage appears to be tarnished with high divorce rates, discontentment and infidelity, it is still a principal source of happiness in the lives of respective partners.
Although marriage is perceived as a deeply flawed institution serving more the needs of the society than those of the individuals, nevertheless, marriage is strongly supported because it has a significant positive influence on health and longevity outcomes of both partners. The definition of marriage has changed considerably over time. In ancient times marriage was a covenant based relationship; laws governed the choice of partners in Hebrew culture whereas in Greek and Northern Europe a bride was either purchased or captured.
In the 15th and 16th century, Church and other religious authorities were heads of the institute of marriage. Today marriage is the product of centuries of change in custom and law. The concept of marriage varies with culture, however, government and religious laws dictate it. (How the definition of marriage has changed over time) Marriage, as agreed by everyone, is a fundamental social institution. A social institution is the “network of shared meanings, norms, definitions, expectations and understandings held by the members of a society” (Traditional Marriage is Essential for a Healthy Society).
This institution is universal, existing in all cultures since pre history. Though the dynamics of marriage have changed over the centuries, the concept of the institution is still to encourage procreation, ensuring a stable family structure in which children will be reared, educated and socialized (Dulle, 2004) Religion is the core of this social institution. Marriage is viewed as a social obligation because many religions example Islam, Hinduism and Christianity support it. However, recently, the view has shifted to that of a civil point of view, while still retaining the original religious influences.
Across all cultures, traditional marriage, defined as the union of a man and a woman, has always been essential to creating, promoting and protecting the family. Research has proven that marriage promotes a healthier society, for children and adults. Rick Santorum in his article ‘The Necessity of Marriage’ states that 44 percent of children raised by two married parents are less likely to be physically abused and 55 percent are less likely to be subjected to child abuse in the USA. This is because children raised in a traditional environment are more secure, leading them to be more prosperous, happy and healthy.
These children perform better in schools and colleges. Moreover, they display more stable personalities, keeping away from crime as compared to children raised by a single parent. Furthermore, they do not abuse drugs and alcohol. Similarly, men and women gain from marriage in terms of finance and health. They are more likely to take part in social work and community service, making the society better as a whole (‘The Social Benefits of Marriage Talking Points’). Although most people accept that marriage serves the society, many are of the view that it often fails to meet the needs of individuals.
In the West, especially, there is a growing popularity that marriage is becoming obsolete. This view is emerging in the east as well, albeit slowly. Marriage appears to be an obligation where people have to give up their right of freedom; no longer is it only about ‘you’, compromises have to be made, certain wants have to be given up. Selfishness has been deemed as one of the major factors of marriage failure. The concept of ‘it’s my life’ has created an attitude in which one’s own wants are placed above anything. Sharing becomes a problem. Unsatisfied with their partners results in divorce rates and infidelity.
These have increased over the years, blemishing the institution of marriage. People may believe that compromises and self sacrifice in a marriage make it a failed institute but the same reasons make a marriage successful. A married man has a constant in his life- his partner. The security and companionship in the relationship helps him achieve happiness. The same sharing is now a pleasure, a way to prevent loneliness (Argyle; 1999). Marriage is known to cause greater satisfaction, greater self esteem and less distress. Evidence shows that married men and women are happier.
A survey of 14000 adults states in ‘A Guide to Family Issues: The Marriage Advantage’ that marriage was a pertinent factor contributing to happiness and satisfaction with forty percent of the married individuals being happy as opposed to 25 percent of either single or cohabiting individuals. The same study shows that ninety eight percent of never married respondents wished to marry and out of those 88% believed that it should be a lifelong commitment. Even though, divorce rates are rising numerous researches show that young people aspire to have a lasting marriage.
Conversely, most people perceive marriage as a sanctuary, satisfying the needs of both partners involved. It is one of the most important institutions affecting people’s health and well-being. Firstly, a strong marriage has a dramatic effect on the partners’ physical health. Being in a happier marriage leads to greater physical intimacy that reduces stress and promotes health. Many studies show that married individuals show greatest satisfaction sexually. Fifty percent married men are emotionally and physically content as compared to thirty nine percent of cohabitating men. Similar was the case for married women.
This is because sex with an exclusive partner forms a bond and become a symbol of togetherness. Sex is known to contribute to health as it lowers the stress hormones level. However, stress isn’t only related to sex. Research by Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago has shown that ‘marriage has a dampening effect’ on cortisol (stress hormone) for both men and women. Increased stress lowers immunity and high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream increase the chances of dying from heart disease as published in the ‘Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism’.
This explains why married individuals are less prone to heart attacks. Brian Baker has found that marital bliss lowers the risk of contracting a cardiovascular disease. This has been proven by many studies, especially in the case for married women. Furthermore, findings by Brigham Young University have shown that low blood pressure is also attributed to a healthy marriage. They are also a prescription for reducing the risk of cancer. In research from the University of Oslo, scientists analyzing survivor information over a 40-year period found significantly lower rates of cancer death amongst married individuals.
Conclusively, marriage plays a substantial role in physical health, satisfying the needs of individuals, especially for men so much so that it is said ‘for better or for worse men are still better off’. Secondly, a healthy marriage contributes to the mental health of a married individual. Being in a stable environment provides a sense of security. Suicide rates among married men are 50 percent lower than those of single men. This is because married individuals have less depression, less anxiety disorders and less psychosis. 40 percent men were happy with their lives as opposed to 25% in single men.
Married women gain more mental benefits. They experience less violence, depression and emotional problems as compared to single women. Domestic violence and sexual abuse is found more in single and cohabitating women. They are five times more likely to become victims of abuse (Kellerman, 1994). Women are raped by their boyfriends and ex husbands more so marriage provides the greatest likelihood of safety. It is also been proven that married individuals are less likely to engage in substance abuse, alcohol and smoking. Single men drink twice as much as married men causing problems.
Married men are more likely to abstain from alcohol (Miller-Tutzauer et al, 1991). Alcoholics consist more of singles than married individuals. The most alarming difference was in smokers between married and singles. Married people are about half as likely to be current smokers as compared to singles. Thirdly, marriage has proven to lower the mortality rates in both men and women. Data demonstrates that married people live longer than their single counterparts. This is especially true for men. According to Scott Haltzman, MD single men have a 250% mortality rate than married men. For single women it is 50%.
This is possibly because married individuals take care of themselves better and the emotional and physical support a marriage provides. A study by RAND illustrates that men in their 50s 60s and 70s have higher mortality rates if they’re single, widowed or divorced. More than 4000 people were tracked over a 22 year period with results showing that mortality rates dropped significantly in old age among married men as compared to those who were divorced. Though there isn’t one cause for this it may be due to the stress free and supportive atmosphere, better nutrition and discouragement of unhealthy activities.
Thus, as a whole, married people lead longer and healthier lives. Marriage, like every other institution, has certain flaws that have led people to believe that it does not meet the needs of individuals; rather it is a social prerequisite. However, the companionship and stability one is offered in a marriage leading to healthier and happier lives portrays that it does successfully not only meet the needs of the society but those of the partners too. As William Farr, a British epidemiologist said, “Marriage is a healthy estate. ”