Cohabiting Better For Men's Mental Health; Marriage Better For Women's

[Partnership and mental health over time 2004:58; 53-8]

Serial relationships are good for men's mental health, but bad for women's, suggest the results of national survey in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

And cohabiting is better for men's mental health, but marriage is better for women's, the data show.

The researchers base their findings on the responses to a validated mental health questionnaire from 4,430 men and women under the age of 65, taking part in the annual British Household Panel Survey.

The Survey, which began in 1991, includes information supplied yearly from a representative sample of 5,000 British households and 10,000 adults.

Men whose relationships with a first partner fell apart had much poorer mental health than men who remained with their first partner. And those who decided to live with a new partner after a marriage break-up also had better mental health than men who stayed single or who remarried.

Unsurprisingly, the mental health of women who had not split up from their partners was better than that of women who did. But women's mental health progressively deteriorated the more break-ups they experienced and the more times they moved on to other relationships.

Women who stayed single, on the other hand, enjoyed much better mental health. But this was not true of men.

While the mental health of both sexes was better in long term relationships, men who chose to marry their partners fared significantly less well emotionally than those who chose just to live with them. Women, on the other hand, fared better if they married.

But women who remained alone after a marriage break-up had the worst mental health of all those surveyed, apart from those who found themselves alone after recently splitting up with a partner.

The evidence also suggests that women take much longer to recover from a relationship split than men do.

The authors conclude that living with a partner is better for mental health, overall, but that women have a harder time emotionally when relationships fail.

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