Partners in health? Exploring resemblance in health between partners in married and cohabiting couples

Sociol Health Illn. 2007 Apr;29(3):391-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01003.x.


Sociological theories on family formation and families and health suggest that married and cohabiting partners will resemble each other in health status, positively or negatively. The family is often seen as a health-enhancing agent for individuals. However, there are large health differences among families. This study aims to answer the question whether it is the case that the healthy live with the healthy and individuals with poor health have partners who are also in poor health. Moreover, it examines whether resemblance in health is a consequence of partner choice--educational homogamy in particular--behaviour or shared circumstances. Younger and older couples are compared to investigate whether health resemblance increases over the lifecourse. Analyses of a nationally representative sample of almost 12,000 Dutch couples show that partners are indeed significantly alike with regard to several health indicators. Respondents whose partner reports poor health are almost three times more likely to report poor health than respondents whose partner is in good health. There is a strong accumulation of health problems within households. Partner selection with regard to education causes part of the partner resemblance in health. Less support is found for the hypotheses that risk behaviour, mutual influence or the effects of shared circumstances cause similarity between partners' health status. Surprisingly, partners in older couples, who have been together for a longer time, do not resemble each other significantly more than partners in younger couples. The implications of these findings for sociological theory and social inequalities in health are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Family Relations / ethnology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Life Style / ethnology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Marriage / ethnology
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Spouses / ethnology
  • Spouses / psychology*