Marriage is so important for men’s health that single guys have more risk of dying than smokers. A study done in the U.K. finds that even when the effects of smoking, drinking, overeating and lack of exercise are taken into account, married men still have a much lower risk of death. The effect is less for women.

Professor Andrew Oswald says smokers should get married as soon as possible. “Forget cash,” he says. “It is as clear as day from the data that marriage, rather than money, is what keeps people alive. It makes perfect sense to ask how a ring of gold can possibly do this. But the honest answer is, that we don’t know.”

Young white men who are widowed between the ages of 20 and 34 are 17 times more likely to kill themselves than married men in the same age group. The trend is also true for African-American men. Dr. Jane Pearson of the NIH looked at death certificates from 1991 to 1996, which include information about marital status, and found that suicide rates were highest among young widows and widowers, although men showed a higher risk than women.

In young adults, being widowed is linked to a higher risk of suicide than being divorced, but that pattern reverses as men and women age. Among older adults, men and women who divorce are more likely to kill themselves than those whose spouses pass away. This change occurs much earlier in women than in men. In both sexes and races, as well as in all age groups, married people are less likely to commit suicide.

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