Health & Wellness

Men who shack up don't get this 'health-promoting' benefit, report finds

Men who live with a partner are less likely to visit the doctor and get preventive care than married men and single guys.

Call it another reason to put a ring on it: Men who live with a partner without saying “I do” appear to be missing out on the “health-promoting” effects of a wife, new research has found.

Married men are more likely than men who have live-in partners to regularly visit the doctor, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics released on Wednesday. Cohabiting men are even less likely than single guys to get medical care, the report found. 

While researchers expected to see a difference between men with spouses and those without, the other results were somewhat unexpected, said one of the report’s authors.

“We’ve known that married men are more likely to visit the doctor; we know that married men live longer than unmarried men,” Stephen J. Blumberg, a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told TODAY Health. “But the difference between married and cohabiting men was a bit of a surprise.”

Researchers analyzed data from the 2011–2012 National Health Interview Survey, which included information from 24,310 men aged 18–64.

They found more than three-quarters of married men — 76 percent — had a health care visit in the past year, compared to 65 percent of single men and 60 percent of cohabiting men. Men who lived with a partner were also less likely to get preventive care, like getting their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, than other men.

Joe Raedle / Today
A doctor checks a man's blood pressure during a routine health screening.

The trend was true regardless of age, but only for those who had health insurance. For uninsured men, neither marriage nor cohabitation was a factor in having had a health care visit.

The results suggest live-in girlfriends do not play the same “health-promoting role” that spouses do, according to the report. Exactly why is not clear, Blumberg said. Maybe wives are more willing to actually make the doctor’s appointment for their husbands or maybe men are more likely to listen to their wives than to their girlfriends, he added.

Men also appear to be reluctant to discuss medical issues with a person who is not a spouse, said Joseph H. Blumberg, another author of the report and the father of Stephen J. Blumberg.

“(The wife) feels much more comfortable pushing the issues,” said Joseph H. Blumberg, executive director of the non-profit Men’s Health and Wellness Center in Atlanta.

“If the girlfriend wants to push the discussion, one of the tendencies of men is to deny it. There’s a vulnerability there — ‘If I have to talk about the fact that I’m not the strong macho guy that you think I am, then I’m going to find some reason to cut the conversation off, (or) deny the issue.’”

Then, there’s what the report calls the effect of spouses “evoking in men a sense of economic and social obligation to the family.” In households where the husband’s income is crucial to the family’s standard of living, he may recognize that falling ill would have very negative consequences and feels motivated to stay healthy, Stephen J. Blumberg said.

The lesson for men is to get the recommended health screenings, know their numbers and pay attention to changes in their health, he noted. At the same time, women should be aware that they may be able to play an important role in convincing men to get this care, he added.

And while many people who live together would say they don’t need a paper to prove their love and commitment, it may not work that way when it comes to health, Joseph H. Blumberg said

“I understand that’s what’s there in terms of their own mind, but I think in practice, the failure of having that bond… being a spouse, has some impact,” he said.

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