Legally Married U.S. Couples Live Longer than Unmarried Couples…If They’re White, but not Black
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Being married, as compared to merely cohabitating with one’s partner, allows both mates to live longer, but whites benefit far more than African-Americans, according to a recently released study authored by two sociologists. Put another way, those who cohabitate with a mate live longer than those living alone or with a roommate regardless of race, but marriage reduces mortality only for white cohabiters, while blacks gain no extra benefit. The study, in the Journal of Marriage and Family, is the first to document mortality differences between cohabiters and married people across racial groups in the United States.
The authors, Professors Hui Liu of Michigan State University and Corinne Reczek of the University of Cincinnati, noted that previous studies had compared married people to all others—cohabiters, widows, widowers, divorcees, and the never-married—without asking whether those who cohabitate without marriage might get some of the benefits of marriage. Their conclusion, that married blacks don’t appear to live any longer than cohabiting blacks, “implies that marriage and cohabitation have very different meanings for blacks and whites,” said sociologist Hui Liu.
Liu said these numbers indicate that whites are more likely to see cohabitation as a trial marriage, which may mean that cohabitation would yield lower levels of shared social, psychological and economic resources. In contrast, the greater prevalence of cohabitation among blacks suggests blacks are more likely to see cohabitation as an alternative to marriage, with similar benefits accruing to the couple.
Wealth and income disparities along racial lines, as discussed in a recent AllGov report, likely play a major role, because one of the primary benefits of marriage arises from economic cooperation. With black unemployment rates nearly twice those of whites, black men earning only 71% of what white men earn and white median wealth now 44.5 times higher than black median wealth, there are fewer financial benefits for marriage to provide the average black couple.
The number of Americans who cohabitate has increased dramatically in the past 50 years–from 400,000 in 1960 to 7.6 million in 2011, and the study data, derived from health surveys of nearly 200,000 people taken from 1997 to 2004, also confirms that blacks cohabitate at nearly twice the rate of whites.
To Learn More
Cohabitation and U.S. Adult Mortality: An Examination by Gender and Race (by Hui Liu and Corinne Reczek) (pdf)
Marriage has Different Meanings for Blacks and Whites (by Andy Henion, Michigan State University)
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