Marriage has long been cited as a health booster, with couples living in wedded bliss more likely to live longer and have fewer emotional problems.
Yet a new study suggests that women hardly benefit from tying the knot.
Landmark research by University College London, the London School of Economics and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that single women do not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.
In fact, middle aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity - as married women.
And although they showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker which signifies an increased risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than the risk of illness for unmarried men. The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems which was raised 14 per cent in men but was barely noticeable in women.
“Not marrying or cohabiting is less detrimental among woman than men,” said Dr George Ploubidis, a population health scientist at the UCL Institute of Education.
“Being married appears to be more beneficial for men.”
The research also showed that getting divorced did not have a harmful impact on future health for either men or women as long as they found a new long-term partner. And women who divorced in mid to late 20s had 31 per cent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, compared to those who stayed married.
“Numerous studies have found that married people have better health than unmarried people,” added Dr George Ploubidis.
“However, our research shows that people who experience separation, divorce and remarriage, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married.
“Previous research has also shown that men experience an initial decline after divorce, but we found that in the long term they tend to revert back to their pre-divorce health status.
“Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry, were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married."
The team analysed information on more than 10,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in the same week of spring 1958.
The study is the first to investigate the links between partnership status and health in middle age in a large sample of the population that had undergone medical examinations.
Marriage was thought to benefit people because of a myriad of physical and psychological reasons. It was thought that wives encouraged married me to keep physically fit, eat properly and visit their doctor.
Women in contrast were thought to benefit emotionally because they value being in a relationship.
But the new study showed that while there was a small health impact for men who never married, it appeared that a long-term relationship was enough to keep people happy and healthy.
However Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation said there was more to marriage than health benefits.
"The whole point of marriage is to affirm commitment that couples make for their own stability and for the benefit of their children," he said.
"The bottom line is that married parents are far more likely to stay together, independent of age or education. Whether marriage makes couples healthier is neither here nor there.
"The only thing that matters is that having married parents means that children are far more likely to grow up with both of them under the same roof."
A major study in 2011 found that being married lowered the risk of premature death by 15 per cent. The previous year research by the World Health Organisation found marriage could reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and those who tied the knot were much less likely to suffer the blues than those who stayed single.
In 2014, there were more than 3 million cohabiting partnerships, and 12.5 million married couples in the UK. According to research by the Office for National Statistics, there were 118,000 divorces in England and Wales in 2012.
The research was published in The American Journal of Public Health.
Dermot Casey met his now wife Jenifer in college and the couple had been together for almost nine years when they started to plan their wedding. Jenifer had her heart set on tying the knot in a Catholic church, so the pair went to meet the parish priest about marrying there. When he insisted that the couple do a pre-marriage course first, Dermot balked.