Marriage and health: Selection, protection, and assortative mating

Authors: Nezih Guner, Yuliya Kulikova and Joan Llull

European Economic Review, Vol. 104, 138-166, May, 2018

Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), we analyze the health gap between married and unmarried individuals of working-age. Controlling for observables, we find a gap that peaks at 10% points at ages 55–59 years. The marriage health gap is similar for men and women. If we allow for unobserved heterogeneity in innate health (permanent and age-dependent), potentially correlated with timing and likelihood of marriage, we find that the effect of marriage on health disappears below age 40 years, while about 5% points difference between married and unmarried individuals remains at older ages (55–59 years). This indicates that the observed gap is mainly driven by selection into marriage at younger ages, but there might be a protective effect of marriage at older ages. Exploring the mechanisms behind this result, we find that better innate health is associated with a higher probability of marriage and a lower probability of divorce, and there is strong assortative mating among couples by innate health. We also find that married individuals are more likely to have a healthier behavior compared to unmarried ones. Finally, we find that health insurance is critical for the beneficial effect of marriage.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona GSE Working Paper 795