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Does the single life mean an earlier death?

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Because there isn't enough pressure on people to get married already, a new study has just given mothers of single men and women more fodder for nagging.

David Roelfs is the lead author on a paper released in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology that says singles (men and women who have never married) are more likely to die sooner than their married friends.

Across their lifetime, bachelors have a risk of death (called the "hazard ratio" in the study) that is 32-per-cent higher than it is for married men. And all the single ladies don't fare much better. Bachelorettes have a 23-per-cent increase in mortality risk than married maidens, according to the research.

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In "worst-case scenarios," Dr. Roelfs told MSNBC, men could die about eight to 17 years earlier (for women, it's seven to 15 years earlier).

To get these numbers, the researchers studied 95 previous papers, ranging as far back as 1912, that cumulatively examined 500 million people, making this a meta-study that encompasses almost a century of work done to prove the dangers of singledom.

The paper also reveals that while single men and women face similar threats of dying sooner, woman have seen a greater increase over time. In other words, their hazard ratio has seen a sharp rise in the last 50 years.

A number of socio-economic factors could be contributing to this specific finding, researchers say.

"With the concurrent decline in public assistance, health benefits and the family wage in Western societies, single women are more economically and medically marginalized now than in previous years and are therefore at a higher risk for health problems and early death," the authors write.

In other words: If these women had a husband, they would also have more money and better access to benefits.

So it seems that what this study is really saying is that there are still a number of structural barriers in most societies that not only make a single lifestyle "abnormal" – but also unhealthy.

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But don't get too smug, married folk. There are also studies that show that bad marriages are damaging to your health. And even in emotionally stable unions partners can pick up on their spouse's bad habits, such as eating junk food.

What do you think of these results? Do you think single people are unfairly singled out in some studies?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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