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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 00:22 GMT
Single men risk earlier death
Young man
Men find it difficult to communicate their emotions
Emotional rather than physical factors may better explain why death rates are higher among single men than their married counterparts.

It is well established that unmarried men tend to die younger than married ones.

It had been suspected that this statistic could be at least partly explained by the fact that physically flawed men - who are at higher risk of early death - are also less likely to find a partner.

If you have good social relationships you tend to be healthier

Dr Janet Empson, psychologist
However, research suggests these physical factors have less of a bearing than first thought.

Psychologists believe that a marital relationship may benefit men's long-term health by giving them emotional security.

Researchers in Stockholm found boys whose growth was slowest were least likely to marry. Unmarried men were shorter at the age of 18, by an average of 1cm.

They also found that death rates from heart disease and stroke were higher in unmarried men than in married men.

However, they could find no firm evidence that slow growth in itself increased the risk of heart disease.

Instead, adult occupation, income and education appeared to be far more important factors.

There was little difference in death rates between married and single women.

Good to talk

Dr Janet Empson, principal lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, said the difference in the way men and women form social relationships may have a greater bearing.

She said: "Social relationships are good for physical and mental health and wellbeing.

"Having a confidante is good for mental health.

"Men are more likely to confide in their wife than a friend, while women are more likely to have confidantes who are friends, in addition to confiding in their husbands."

Having a wife as a confidante might help to explain why married men are able to deal with stress better and are therefore less likely to suffer from heart attacks or strokes.

Victoria, Brooklyn and David Beckham
Does David confide in Victoria Beckham?
However, Dr Empson puts forward another hypothesis, which has its roots in childhood growth.

She said: "Males who reach puberty early do better in their education, have better relationships with their peers and are more attractive to the opposite sex.

"If they have a growth spurt earlier, which is associated with reaching puberty earlier, everyone thinks they're fine, strong men and it may be that peers value that in the group.

"Once they reach adulthood, even when size differences are no longer in existence, the early maturing boys do better in their relationships and careers."

"If you have good social relationships you tend to be healthier."

Researchers used data from the Uppsala birth cohort study of people born between 1915 and 1929.

They used official registers to follow their marital status and mortality from 1970 through to 1995.

Complete data were available for 5577 men and 5227 women.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

See also:

02 Nov 01 | Health
Could men become extinct?
24 Oct 00 | World
Warning over mens health
05 Jun 00 | Health
Men 'ignorant about male cancers'
19 Oct 99 | Health
Lad culture blamed for suicides
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