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A research team set out to investigate how marital happiness impacts elderly men's risk of developing diabetes. Their findings were shocking.

Around 29 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes, an estimate that includes eight million as yet undiagnosed people and that adds up to 9.3 percent of the total population. The prevalence of diabetes is much higher among senior citizens, however: an estimated 11.8 million 65-plussers have got the disease, a figure that translates to a whopping 25.9 percent of seniors. Over a quarter!

Why do so many more older people have diabetes than younger people? The answer to that question could only ever be rather multi-faceted. A group of researchers led by associate professor in sociology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Hui Liu, decided to ask a rather fascinating question, though — where does marital happiness fit in? Does marital happiness or, of course, lack thereof, influence the prevalence of diabetes later in life in any way? And if diabetes does develop, does the quality of one's marriage have an impact on how well it's generally managed?

It seems rather an unlikely question to ask (which is, I admit, why the study caught my eye), but the results were nothing short of fascinating.

What Did The Study Look At?

Hui Liu's team, which published its research in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, examined data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. The data itself is a goldmine for researchers. It covers many aspects of the lives of older citizens, ranging from health and aging to social life and relationship quality. This particular study took at look at 1,228 men aged between 57 and 85 when the first wave of the survey was conducted. By the time the second wave came around, approximately five years later for most participants, 385 of those men were diagnosed with diabetes.

Though the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project didn't specifically address how participants saw the quality of their marriage, it did include many questions about how the study subjects viewed their spouse and how happy they currently were with their relationship, as well as addressing sex and intimacy.

The study team analyzed this data in an attempt to figure out how marital quality impacted diabetes.

Bad Marriages Lead To Lower Diabetes Rates — But With A Catch?

Their findings were beyond surprising, and can even be called shocking: the team found that the common wisdom that love contributes to good health simply doesn't hold true in the case of diabetes. Those men who had what the researchers deemed bad marriages were found to be less likely to develop diabetes, as well as better diabetes management if they got the disease anyway.


Well, the development of Type 2 diabetes is linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits such as poor diet, and the management of diabetes itself requires rather a lot of effort. The study team concluded that it's possible that the very same qualities that made the men they researched see their marriages in less than positive lights could be those required to prevent and manage diabetes. Yes, we're talking about wives micromanaging their husband's activities, or "nagging" them!

Hui Liu said:

"The study challenges the traditional assumption that negative marital quality is always detrimental to health. It also encourages family scholars to distinguish different sources and types of marital quality. Sometimes, nagging is caring."

There's more, though! The study also, in fact, looked at females. In their case, it was positive marital quality that made diabetes less likely to develop. So, what was this study really about — diabetes or sociology? The research is certainly food for thought no matter which angle you are most interested in.

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