According to a new UCLA study, marriage can improve a man’s bone health—but only if he marries at age 25 or older. In general, women are more susceptible to osteoporosis as they age; however, the study found no benefit for women who tied the knot. The findings were published online in the journal Osteoporosis International.
The investigators found that men who married when they were younger than age 25 had lower bone strength than those who married for the first time at a later age. They also found that men in stable marriages or marriage-like relationships who had never previously divorced or separated had stronger bones than men whose previous marriages had failed. In addition, men in stable relationships also had stronger bones than men who never married. Although women who were married or in a stable relationship did not have stronger bones, the investigators found that women with supportive partners had stronger bones than women whose partners did not appreciate them, understand how they felt, or were emotionally unsupportive in other ways.
Senior author, Dr. Carolyn Crandall noted that her team’s study marked the first time that marital histories and marital quality have been linked to bone health. Dr. Crandall, who is a professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, added, “There is very little known about the influence of social factors, other than socioeconomic factors, on bone health. Good health depends not only on good health behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking, but also on other social aspects of life, such as marital life stories and quality of relationships.”
For the study, the investigators accessed data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, which recruited individuals between the ages 25 and 75 from 1995 to 1996. The subjects from that study were re-interviewed from 2004–2005 (MIDUS II). To assess bone strength, the researchers used hip and spine bone-density measurements obtained by standard bone-density scanners as well as other data during the subjects’ MIDUS II visits at UCLA, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison and other data; the study group was a national sample comprised 294 men and 338 women from. Other factors that affect bone health were also evaluated, including medications, health behaviors and menopause.
Of interest, the associations between marriage and bone health were present in the spine but not the hip; the investigators suggested that this finding might be due to differences in bone composition, the researchers said. They found several significant correlations between marriage and bone health; however, these correlations were only among men. Men in long-term stable marriages or marriage-like relationships had higher bone density in the spine than every other male group, including men currently married who had previously been divorced or separated, men not currently in a relationship, and men who had never been married.
Among men who first married before the age of 25, the investigators found a significant reduction in spine bone strength for each year they were married before that age. “Very early marriage was detrimental in men, likely because of the stresses of having to provide for a family,” noted study co-author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, a professor of medicine in the geriatrics division at UCLA. The authors also noted that men who marry young are likely to be less educated, resulting in lower pay and economic stress. The investigators noted that they did not know the biological pathways connecting bone health and marriage; thus, this will be the focus of their next research project. They explained that their findings were limited by the fact that there were no long-term assessments of bone density; the findings; therefore, only suggest a correlation, not cause and effect. However, the researchers noted that, despite these limitations, the findings supplied additional new evidence of the association between psychosocial life histories and adult bone health. The gender differences observed in the association between marital history and bone strength were consistent with gender differences reported in previous studies of marital status and other aspects of health, and imply that we should not assume that marriage has the same health rewards for men and women. They wrote, “Specifically, never marrying, and experiencing a divorce, widowhood, or separation are associated with poor bone health in men, whereas poor marital quality is associated with poor bone health in women.”