This study assessed the relationship between marital status and the risk for depression in people ≥ 55 years old. Using the Medline™, EMBASE™ and Cochrane Library databases, clinical studies that published data on the association between marital status and risk of depression among individuals aged ≥ 55 years were identified. A quantitative meta-analysis of 24 cross-sectional and eight longitudinal studies was performed. Compared with married elderly people, unmarried elderly people had a higher risk for depression (odds ratio [OR], 1.55; relative risk [RR], 1.36). Compared with married elderly people, the widowed elderly people (OR 1.49; RR 1.71), divorced people (RR 2.14) and never-married people (OR 1.32) had a higher risk for depression. Among elderly unmarried people, widowed people had a higher risk for depression than those who never married (OR 1.51). In conclusion, being unmarried was an important risk factor for depression in elderly people.