Is staying single actually good for your health? The answer will probably surprise you.
While maintaining a healthy body and mind are some ways to help ensure that you’ll live a long life, the oldest person in the world has some other advice: Stay single to live longer. Emma Morano of Verbania, Italy will turn 117 on November 29th and along with her unconventional diet, she believes one of the reasons she has lived such a long life is because she has been single for most of it. So, can being single be good for your health? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, says Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.
Born in 1899, Morano is the world’s oldest person and the only person still alive who was born in the 19th century. When The New York Times did a feature on Morano at the young age of 115, she credited being alive for so long to the fact that she has mostly lived as a single woman. Her marriage ended in 1938 — 78 years ago, longer than many people live. Fascinatingly, divorce wasn’t even legal in Italy until 1970, but that didn’t stop Morano from ending her unhappy marriage after the death of her infant son. Although The New York Times noted she had many “suitors” after, she never had a long-term partner again. “I didn’t want to be dominated by anyone,” Morano said.
Many studies over the years have said that married people are the ones who live longer, but DePaulo of the University of California, Santa Barbara has worked to debunk that myth. “What I’ve found is that, contrary to many claims that are out there, getting married does not result in any lasting increases in aspects of well-being such as happiness or self-esteem,” DePaulo says to HelloGiggles. “There are also ways in which lifelong single people do better than married people.”
To back this idea up, DePaulo refers to a study that compared lifelong single people to married people for five years. She says the single people in the study agreed with statements like, “I judge myself by what I think is important, not by what others think is important.” And, “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, change, and growth.” On the flip side, married people were more likely to agree with the statement, “I gave up trying to make big improvements in my life a long time ago.”
Just like Morano said she didn’t want to be “dominated,” DePaulo’s research has found that if you value your independence, then you may just live a better, healthier life if your romantic relationships don’t limit that. She says there’s another study comparing lifelong single people and married people where, “The single people who were self-sufficient were less likely to experience negative emotions. For the married people, it was the opposite: The more they valued self-sufficiency, the more they experienced negative emotions.”
"I think people who are independent and self-sufficient can be very capable people who feel good about themselves," DePaulo says. "And if you are independent and self-sufficient, you can create the kind of life that best suits you. You can pursue your passions, instead of doing what a partner wants to do or what a partner thinks you should be doing."
While you, of course, can be self-sufficient and happy in a marriage, if you think a partner limits you, then staying single could just be better for your mental health.
Beyond mental health, you may actually be more physically healthy if you are single. DePaulo says that single people exercise more than married people. And good fitness can obviously help ward off weight gain. “In some studies based on national samples of people, such as one in Canada, the lifelong single people are, on the average, healthier than everyone else,” DePaulo says. She also states that the stress of a relationship could negatively impact your health.
"Another thing is that when couples are in conflict with each other, that's not likely to be good for their health," she says.
While Morano being single hasn’t necessarily helped her physical health, her statements seem to indicate that her single lifestyle has made her more mentally content. So even though she lives off of a diet of raw eggs and cookies, she is still on her way to approaching the astounding age of 117.
As for if singleness could help you personally live longer, it’s not as simple as all that. DePaulo points to one more study that shows whether you choose to be single or married, divorcing is the one life choice that might not be good for your longevity.
"There is a study that started in 1921 with 1,528 eleven-year olds and has followed them continuously over time," DePaulo says. "The people who lived the longest were those who either stayed single all their lives or stayed married. People who got divorced, regardless of whether they remarried, did not live as long."
When it comes to living a healthy life — whether it lasts until you’re 117 like Moreno — DePaulo thinks you should just choose what is best for YOU. And that just might help you live longer.
"My best guess is that the ideal life is different for different people. For some people, what works best is to marry," DePaulo says. "Some people live their best, most authentic, most fulfilling, and most meaningful lives by living single. Those people will probably live longest if they stay single."
Moral of the story: No matter how long you live, you should spend what time you have as happy and as mentally healthy as possible — single, married, or otherwise.