Leukocyte telomere length and marital status among middle-aged adults

Age Ageing. 2011 Jan;40(1):73-8. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afq118. Epub 2010 Sep 4.


Background: being unmarried is associated with worse health and increased mortality risk. Telomere length has emerged as a marker for biological ageing but it is unclear how telomere length relates to marital status.

Objective: to examine the relationship between telomere length and marital status in a sample of middle-aged adults.

Design and subjects: cross-sectional analysis among 321 adults aged 40-64 years.

Methods: telomere length was measured by PCR (T/S ratio). Participants provided information on healthy lifestyle activities including smoking, alcohol use, diet, exercise, obesity as well as social support.

Results: participants married or living with a partner had a mean T/S ratio of 1.70 and those widowed, divorced, separated or never married had a mean T/S ratio of 1.58 in a model adjusted for age, gender and race/ethnicity (P < 0.001). When the analysis was further adjusted for diet, alcohol consumption, exercise, smoking, social support, poverty and obesity, persons married or living with a partner had a higher mean T/S ratio of 1.69 than their unmarried counterparts (1.59) (P = 0.004).

Conclusions: these results indicate that unmarried individuals have shorter telomeres. This relationship between marital status and telomere length is independent of presumed benefits of marriage such as social support and a healthier lifestyle.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / ethnology
  • Aging / ethnology
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / ethnology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Leukocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Life Style
  • Longevity / physiology
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Middle Aged
  • South Carolina
  • Telomere / physiology
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*


  • Biomarkers