Toronto Sun

October 27, 2002

Men benefit more from marriage

A Toronto study conflicts with Australian data. What should one believe?

By VALERIE GIBSON -- Toronto Sun

Does marriage benefit men more than women? I've always thought so.

Not just because the men in my various marital lives did very well out of my wifely efforts, especially financially, but studies over the years have seemed to prove this theory.

One much quoted study conducted in 1972 by sociologist Jesse Bernard, looked at symptoms of anxiety, depression, neurosis and passivity in married and unmarried women. She concluded that married men are better off than single men, live longer and are in better mental and physical health than married women.

Her final conclusion was that married men were in better shape than single men but that this comes at the expense of their female partners.

This finding became the central theme of the women's liberation movement in the '70s and is still frequently cited today. Marriage is bad for women -- a form of slavery, said the feminists.

Whether or not they considered themselves feminists, most women agreed, acknowledging that since they're traditionally the nurturing sex they tend to be more sacrificial when it comes to their own needs. In other words, married women always put their family first, before themselves.

Dr. Catherine Gildiner, Toronto psychologist and author of Too Close to the Falls, a childhood memoir set in Niagara Falls, adamantly agrees.


"Marriage is most definitely more beneficial to men," she says, pointing out that one indication of how men and women feel about marriage is when they find themselves single later in life. "The men remarry quickly while the women choose to stay single. The women feel they finally want to focus on themselves."

But according to a new study conducted by psychologist David de Vaus from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, the stress levels and the benefits to men and women in marriage are equal.

He studied the data from almost 10,641 adults taken from a 1996 national survey of mental health in Australia and says he found the percentage of married men and women suffering stress was the same -- 13%. He also found that 25% of both women and men were miserable when single.

Heather McKechnie, a registered Ontario marriage and family therapist, was incredulous about the findings, saying the results were "the exception rather than the rule."

"They don't reflect reality at all, especially in North America. I'm not even sure they reflect reality in Australia. That country's far behind us in many areas and a very patriarchal society."

She was even more incredulous about de Vaus finding that married women with children and a job had the fewest mental health problems and were the happiest.

"There's no way!" she said firmly. And I agree.

If the study is talking mental health problems due to stress, then surely topping the list of the majorly stressed-out is a working mother. The average married mom of today is desperately trying to cope with the overwhelming daily demands of kids, a career, a husband, home, social life and sometimes the needs of aging or sick parents as well.

Most married men, even the sensitive, aware ones who are into sharing of parenting and daily chores, rarely experience such a continuous high level of stress.

Judging by the number of letters I get from just such overloaded working mothers, there's a ripple effect. Because of the endless demands on their energy and time, many working moms find that something has to give in their lives. For many of them, it's time for themselves and, especially, their sex life. They complain that, much as they'd like to, they rarely have the energy for sex at the end of a long, exhausting day. But they often find that, far from being understanding and supportive, their husband can become frustrated and resentful, increasing the stress levels. Eventually, if not addressed, this can result in estrangement and finally the disintegration of the marriage.

Happiest of all? I think not.

And if the de Vaus study is correct and marriage is equally beneficial to both men and women, you would think that, after a split or the death of a partner, women would be eager to remarry.

Yet, as Dr. Gildiner states, most women today are not eager to do so and increasingly say they have no intention of finding themselves in a marital situation ever again.

It's a question, I guess, of which study to believe.

Having been married and been a working mom, I'm for the original one.

Men definitely benefit mentally and physically more from marriage than women do and de Vaus is out to Aussie lunch.

Valerie Gibson can be reached by e-mail at or write to: Dear Val, The Toronto Sun, 333 King St. E., Toronto, Ont. M5A 3X5.
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