The health gap between married men and never-married men is closing, a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds.

Researchers have long known that marriage brings increased wealth and social connections, which lead to greater health and happiness. But changes in marital trends, including people waiting longer to marry, led researchers from Michigan State University to investigate whether the health gap between married people and singles was also changing.

Looking at 32 years of data on more than a million Americans between the ages of 25 and 80, researchers found that single people are in fact getting healthier. But only the gap between married and never-married men is shrinking.

"Married people are still healthier than unmarried people, but the gap between the married and never-married is closing, especially for men," said lead author Hui Liu, an assistant professor and sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Because the number of never-married men reporting good health has increased over the past 30 years, while the number of married men is relatively unchanged, the space between the two groups has gotten smaller.

When it comes to women, however, both never-married and married women are reporting themselves healthier than 30 years ago, which means the gap remains about the same.

"Politicians and scholars continue to debate the value of marriage for Americans with some going so far as to establish social programs and policies to encourage marriage among those social groups less inclined to marry, particularly the poor and minorities," researchers wrote in their study.

However, the study findings "highlight the complexity of this issue" and suggest "encouraging marriage in order to promote health may be misguided," they added.

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