Gender, marital status and the social control of health behavior

  • Umberson D
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Abstract

Mortality rates are lower for married individuals than they are for unmarried individuals, and marriage seems to be even more beneficial to men than women in this regard. A theoretical model of social integration and social control is developed to explain why this may occur. Drawing from this model, I hypothesize that marriage may be beneficial to health because many spouses monitor and attempt to control their spouse's health behaviors. Furthermore, the provision, receipt, and consequences of these social control efforts may vary for men and women. These hypotheses are considered with analysis of a national panel survey conducted in 1986 (N = 3617) and 1989 (N = 2867). Results show that: (1) marriage is associated with receipt of substantially more efforts to control health for men than women, (2) those who attempt to control the health of others are more likely to be female than male, (3) there is some support for the social control and health behavior hypothesis among the married, and (4) the transition from married to unmarried status is associated with an increase in negative health behavior while the transition from unmarried to married status seems to have little effect on health behavior. A theoretical explanation is developed to explain these marital status differences.

Author-supplied keywords

  • gender
  • health behavior
  • marital status
  • social integration

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Authors

  • Debra Umberson

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