Marriage has long been thought to be beneficial, but a new study suggests that widows suffer less stress and frailty than women whose husbands are still alive.
The findings are in contrast to previous research which showed marriage has a protective effect on health, lowering the risk of a heart attack, depression and increasing the chance of surviving from cancer.
The new study by the University of Padova in Italy found that while men suffer negative consequences when their wife dies – because they rely more heavily on their spouse – women appear to get healthier.
Lead researcher Caterina Trevisan said the presence of a wife may bring benefits for men in terms of household management and health-care, whereas women are “more likely to feel stressed and find their role restrictive and frustrating.”
“Since women generally have a longer lifespan than men, married women may also suffer from the effects of caregiver burden, since they often devote themselves to caring for their husband in later life,” Trevisan said.
The study also found single women experienced less anxiety than bachelors, greater job satisfaction and higher activity levels at work, and a lower risk of social isolation as they maintained stronger relationships with family or friends, ‘The Telegraph’ reported.
“Widows cope better than widowers with the stress deriving from the loss of a partner and widowhood, with a significant increase in the risk of depression only in the latter,” said Trevisan.
Widows were about 23 per cent less likely to be frail than married women, according to the researchers.
The study followed 733 Italian men and 1,154 women for four-and-a-half years and found the prediction held true.
Bachelors were almost four times and widowers one-and-a half times more likely to be frail than their married peers.
“Our results partially contrast with previous reports of a weaker, but still protective effect of marriage on mortality, health status, and depression in women, as in men,” said Trevisan.
The study was published in the Journal of Women’s Health.