Can Marriage Prevent Depression?

By Kelly Burch 04/12/18

In a new study, researchers examined the correlation between marriage, income and depression.

newly married couple embracing on mountaintop

Is marriage the key to happiness? The answer may depend on your income level. 

According to a new study published in the journal Social Science Research, people who are married are less likely to be depressed if they make under $60,000 in combined household income. For people who make more than that, those who have never been married are least likely to experience symptoms of depression. 

“We looked at the interrelationships between marriage, income and depression, and what we found is that the benefit of marriage on depression is really for people with average or lower levels of income,” Dr. Ben Lennox Kail, first author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State, said in a news release. “Specifically, people who are married and earning less than $60,000 a year in total household income experience fewer symptoms of depression. But above that, marriage is not associated with the same kind of reduction in symptoms of depression.”

To study the correlation between marriage, income and depression, researchers used data from the Americans’ Changing Lives Survey.

That national study consists of interviews with 3,617 American adults ages 24 to 89 over many years. It included adults who were newly married, never married, and married for years, and asked about their sociological, psychological, mental and physical health. 

Kail theorizes that the difference in marital happiness is because people with fewer economic resources—those making less—experience an economic boost from their marriage. People who make more than $60,000 for the household don’t experience a similar benefit. 

“For people who are earning above $60,000, they don’t get this bump because they already have enough resources,” Kail said. “About 50% of the benefit these households earning less than $60,000 per year get from marriage is an increased sense of financial security and self-efficacy, which is probably from the pooling of resources.”

This finding supports a theory called the marital resource model, which argues the health benefits of marriage include the pooling of resources, such as finances and social support. For people needing this support, marriage can mitigate some of the risk of conditions like depression. However, for those with plenty of resources already, this is not the case. 

In fact, Kail and his co-authors found that at the highest income levels, people who have never been married reported the fewest symptoms of depression. 

“Also, it’s interesting to note, at the highest levels of income, the never married fare better in terms of depression than the married,” he said. “They have fewer symptoms of depression than married people. All of these are subclinical levels of depression, meaning the disease is not severe enough to be clinically referred to as depression, but can nevertheless impact your health and happiness.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.