Numerous health studies have found that marriage can improve an individual’s health. Now, a new study illuminates how a long-term relationship promotes health benefits.


According to Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the  University of Chicago and lead author discovered unmarried people in a committed, romantic relationship show the same reduced responses to stress as do married people.


“These results suggest that single and unpaired individuals are more responsive to psychological stress than married individuals, a finding consistent with a growing body of evidence showing that marriage and social support can buffer against stress.”


Between- and Within-sex Variations in Hormonal Responses to Psychological Stress in a Large Sample of College Student,” was reported in the medical research journal Stress. 


Five hundred masters degree students were evaluated by a team of researchers from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University studied.  Approximately 53 percent of the women and 40 percent of the men were married or in relationships.


There group was composed of 153 women and 348 men. The students were asked to play a series of computer games that examined economic behaviors.  Samples of their saliva were taken before and after playing the games to evaluate their hormone levels and changes.


The students were placed under stress as they were informed that the test was a course requirement, and it would impact their future career placement. This potentially stressful experience could have an impact on their cortisol levels, which is a major stress hormone.


What did the study find about marriage and stress hormones?


The researchers noted that all of the participants experienced a rise in their cortisol levels but the women experienced a higher average increase than males. The exercise also caused the male participant’s testosterone levels to drop, but interestingly not in the females, a stress effect previously observed in humans and animals.


Interesting, the marital status of the participants provided another interesting difference within the subjects.


“We found that unpaired individuals of both sexes had higher cortisol levels than married individuals. Although marriage can be pretty stressful, it should make it easier for people to handle other stressors in their lives,” Maestripieri said.


“What we found is that marriage has a dampening effect on cortisol responses to psychological stress, and that is very new.”


The study also found that single business school students also displayed higher baseline testosterone levels than their married or committed colleagues, a finding that mirrors previous human research as well as animal observations.



University of Chicago (2010, August 17). Marriage and committed romance reduce stress-related hormone production.