Married men are more likely to visit the doctor and get recommended health screenings than unmarried men who live with their significant others, according to a new report.
In 2011 and 2012, 76 percent of married men ages 18 to 64 said they had a health care visit in the last year, the report found. By contrast, 60 percent of unmarried men who lived with their partners (known as cohabiting), and 65 percent of other unmarried men, included those who were widowed, divorced or never married, reported health care visits, the study showed.
The findings were true regardless of age. Although younger men were less likely than older men to visit the doctor, younger men who were married were more likely than their cohabiting counterparts to have had a health care visit in the past year, according to the report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [5 Facts About Couples Who Live Together]
However, insurance affected the link between marriage and getting health care; married men were more likely than cohabiting men to visit the doctor, but only when both groups the researchers looked at were insured. (Among uninsured men, there was no link between marital status and the likelihood of visiting the doctor in the past year.)
Married men were also more likely than cohabiting and other unmarried men to receive recommended health screenings, such as diabetes screening and blood pressure and cholesterol checks.
For example, nearly 80 percent of married men had their blood pressure checked in the last year — a screening recommended for all adults — compared to 65 percent of cohabiting men and 67 percent of other unmarried men, according to the report.
Experts say the findings are not surprising. "They are consistent with other research showing that married individuals, especially married men, enjoy greater health benefits than their cohabiting counterparts," said Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who was not involved with the study. Previous research has found that married men live longer and have fewer symptomsof depression than cohabiting men, Brown said.
Economic differences between married and cohabiting men may help explain the discrepancies. Married men, especially if they're older, tend to have more financial resources and are more likely to have insurance, Brown said.
Support from spouses also has an effect. Studies have found that wives are good at encouraging their husbands to go to the doctor, Brown said.
It's important to note that such encouragement may happen more often in marriages than among cohabiting couples simply because that type of "nagging" takes longer to develop in relationships, said Kelly Musick, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology. Cohabitors are more likely to be in newer relationships, compared to married couples. "Cohabitation tends to be relatively short term — cohabitors break up, or move into marriage relatively quickly," she said.
Finally, married men may also feel obligated to stay healthy to provide for their families, the researchers said. Having a spouse may indirectly "[evoke] in men a sense of economic and social obligation to the family," the researchers, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, wrote in the report.
Because the new study did not take into account all the ways that married and cohabiting couples differ, it's difficult to determine the exact reasons behind the new findings, Musick noted.
A 2012 study from Musick and colleagues that followed couples over time suggested that there are some benefits to cohabitation; couples who got married or started living with their partner both experienced a boost in happiness.
Cohabiting is also becoming more common. A study published last year found that between 2006 and 2010, 48 percent of heterosexual women ages 15 to 44 said they were not married to their spouse or partner when they first lived with them, up from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995.