This meta-analysis reviewed 126 published empirical articles over the past 50 years describing associations between marital relationship quality and physical health in more than 72,000 individuals. Health outcomes included clinical endpoints (objective assessments of function, disease severity, and mortality; subjective health assessments) and surrogate endpoints (biological markers that substitute for clinical endpoints, such as blood pressure). Biological mediators included cardiovascular reactivity and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. Greater marital quality was related to better health, with mean effect sizes from r = .07 to .21, including lower risk of mortality (r = .11) and lower cardiovascular reactivity during marital conflict (r = -.13), but not daily cortisol slopes or cortisol reactivity during conflict. The small effect sizes were similar in magnitude to previously found associations between health behaviors (e.g., diet) and health outcomes. Effect sizes for a small subset of clinical outcomes were susceptible to publication bias. In some studies, effect sizes remained significant after accounting for confounds such as age and socioeconomic status. Studies with a higher proportion of women in the sample demonstrated larger effect sizes, but we found little evidence for gender differences in studies that explicitly tested gender moderation, with the exception of surrogate endpoint studies. Our conclusions are limited by small numbers of studies for specific health outcomes, unexplained heterogeneity, and designs that limit causal inferences. These findings highlight the need to explicitly test affective, health behavior, and biological mechanisms in future research, and focus on moderating factors that may alter the relationship between marital quality and health.
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