Landmark research by the University College London, the London School of Economics and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that single women do not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.
In fact, middle-aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – as married women.
And although they showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker, which signifies an increased risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than the risk of illness for unmarried men.
The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems, which was raised 14 per cent in men but was barely noticeable in women.
The research was published in The American Journal of Public Health.
“Not marrying or cohabiting is less detrimental among women than men,” said Dr George Ploubidis, a population health scientist at the UCL Institute of Education.
“Being married appears to be more beneficial for men.”
The research also showed that getting divorced did not have a harmful impact on future health for either men or women as long as they found a new long-term partner. And women who divorced in their mid to late 20s had 31 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, compared to those who stayed married.
“Numerous studies have found that married people have better health than unmarried people,” added Dr George Ploubidis.
“However, our research shows that people who experience separation, divorce and remarriage, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married.
Previous research has also shown that men experience an initial decline after divorce, but we found that in the long term, they tend to revert to their pre-divorce health status.
Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.”
The team analysed information on more than 10,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in the same week of spring 1958.
The study is the first to investigate the links between partnership status and health in middle age in a large sample of the population that had undergone medical examinations.