Cohabitation, Gender and Physical Health: Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey

Georgiana Bostean, University of California, Irvine

Research shows that married persons experience better overall health, but studies of cohabitors have focused mainly on mental health. Using the 2000-2003 U.S. National Health Interview Survey, we examine the physical health, specifically self-reported health and functional limitation, of cohabitors (disaggregated by prior marital status) as compared to the married, never-married, and divorced, with the aim of contributing to the understanding of the marital status-health relationship as it may be related to selection. We also explore gender and race interactions with marital status, finding that cohabitation has an uneven effect by both gender and race. Overall, our findings suggest that in terms of health, cohabitors fall between the married and the divorced or never married. Previously married cohabitors are more similar to the divorced, while never married cohabitors resemble the never married. Further, much of the self-rated health advantage experienced by the married is explained by functional limitation.

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Presented in Session 134: Behavioral Risk Factors and Health/Mortality