The Health Benefits of Marrying and Cohabiting in Later Life

Jonathan Vespa, U.S. Census Bureau
Adrianne Frech, University of Akron

Do the health benefits of marriage extend to cohabitation in later life? Using longitudinal panel data from the 1998–2008 Health and Retirement Study, we look at changes in the health of single older adults across time and test whether marrying or cohabiting are associated with improved health, relative to staying single. We build on prior work by moving beyond mortality to consider eight indicators of physical health, and by using multinomial treatment models to model the selection of older adults into cohabitation or marriage. Once we account for selection into these relationships, we find that cohabiting is as protective of health as marrying among older adults. The implication is that relationship status is more important for health in later life than relationship type. In other words, having an intimate coresidential partner matters more for health among older adults than do the legal and institutional bonds of marriage.

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 Presented in Session 199. Family Transitions in Later Life