Widows 'suffering less stress than wives whose husbands are still alive'
Marriage has long been thought to be beneficial, in sickness and in health. But a new study suggests that widows actually suffer less stress and frailty than wives 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, found that while men suffer negative consequences when their wife dies - because they rely more heavily on their spouse - women appear to get healthier.
"Widows cope better than widowers with the stress deriving from the loss of a partner, with an increase in the risk of depression only in the latter," lead researcher Dr Caterina Trevisan said.
She said the presence of a wife may bring benefits for men in terms of household management and healthcare, 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 suffer from the effects of caregiver burden, since they often devote themselves to caring for their husband in later life."
Dr Trevisan said these factors may be behind the lower risk of depression in unmarried women.
The same study 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. "Consistently with this picture, the higher educational level and better economic status among the single women in our study may well reflect a social condition that would promote a greater psychological and physical well-being," added Dr Trevisan.
It is well known married people generally live longer than their single counterparts, who are said to have a worse diet and drink more alcohol. But the study of almost 2,000 over 65s shows the well accepted association between marital status and fitness has "gender specific differences" among older individuals.
Most notably, widows were about 23pc less likely to be frail than married women, reports the 'Journal of Women's Health'. The study followed 733 Italian men and 1,154 women for four years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)