Is there something unique about marriage? The relative impact of marital status, relationship quality, and network social support on ambulatory blood pressure and mental health

Ann Behav Med. 2008 Apr;35(2):239-44. doi: 10.1007/s12160-008-9018-y. Epub 2008 Mar 18.


Background: Having close social relationships and being married specifically have been reliably associated with health benefits including lower morbidity and mortality.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of marital status, relationship quality, and network support on measures of psychological and cardiovascular health.

Method: We examined ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) among 204 married and 99 single males and females (N = 303).

Results: We found that both marital status and marital quality were important. Married individuals had greater satisfaction with life (SWL) and blood pressure dipping than single individuals. High marital quality was associated with lower ABP, lower stress, less depression, and higher SWL. Importantly, contrasting those who are unmarried with those in low-quality marriages, we find that single individuals had lower ABP-suggesting that single individuals fare better than their unhappily married counterparts. Likewise, having a supportive network did not moderate (i.e., buffer) the effects of being single or unhappily married.

Conclusions: Findings indicate being married per se is not universally beneficial, rather, the satisfaction and support associated with such a relationship is important. However, marriage may be distinctive, as evidence further suggests that support from one's network does not compensate for the effect of being single. These results highlight the complexities in understanding the influence of social relationships on long-term health, and they may help clarify the physiological pathways by which such associations exist.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory
  • Blood Pressure*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Single Person / psychology
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications