Alternative Therapies and Lifestyle

Men Live Longer if They’re Married, Women if They Have Girlfriends

+ Pamela Friedman

You may have heard about the studies that show marriage is good for men. A new one found that a stable marriage is associated with longer life and reduced stress for men, as well as a lower risk of depression. Another found that marriage lowers aggressive and illegal behavior in men. Older studies have found that by age 50, divorced men experience a faster rate of health deterioration than married men, with marriage offering benefits such as lowered stress and improved nutrition.

The evidence is overwhelmingly positive for men. What about women? Well, it’s not so clear-cut for us.

The whole idea of married people living longer is not well established in women, with some studies showing marriage has no little to no effect on life expectancy for females. Bad marriages affect both genders, but the health risks are higher for women, with heart disease and stroke at the top of the list of potential problems. Women tend to put on more pounds after marriage (whether or not they have kids), are more likely to get sick as a result of arguing, and suffer more from failed marriages than men. According to one study, husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, despite the fact that most women now work a full-time job.

Other studies, however, have found benefits for married women. They experience more financial security. They have a lower risk of cancer, dementia, and pneumonia, as well as a better capability to deal with stress. Most studies confirm, however, that these benefits come from happy marriages. Unhappy ones cause all kinds of physical damage, with marital stress increasing, among other things, the risk of a second heart attack in women.

Enough to leave a girl a little confused, right? Well, here’s the good news. While we may be unsure whether or not that cute guy is good for us, we can be absolutely positive that our girlfriends are. According to, “A friend of mine is currently taking classes at Stanford University, and she wrote me that the head of psychiatry there told the class that ‘one of the best things a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a women, one of the best things she can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.’”

Science confirms this idea. When women are with their girlfriends, their bodies produce more “feel good” hormones, helping to reduce stress and boost the immune system. Harvard researchers found that older women who had a “confidante” were more likely to enjoy physical vitality. An Australian study found that women with more friends lived 22 percent longer than women with few friends. A University of California study showed that women turn to friends in times of stress, and a Manchester University study showed that more women contacted their friends on a daily basis than men.

Girlfriends play a big role in helping us get through cancer as well. One study found that women with advanced ovarian cancer who had weak social support were more likely to have a protein related to more aggressive types of the cancer. And a 2006 study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends.

“Friends help you face adverse events,” says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “Friends encourage you to take better care of yourself.”

“Being able to connect with women on various emotional levels can assist in lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol,” says Dr. Joan Silk of the University of California. “The more friends a woman has, the less likely she is to develop health problems as she becomes older.”

In today’s busy world, it can be tough to carve out the time to spend with your friends, but now you know–it’s great for your health. Do you need any more excuses to schedule that girl’s night out?

Do you rely on your girlfriends when the chips are down? Please share your story.

Photo courtesy graur codrin via