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Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's Day - a celebration of the public health benefits of couples

Founded in liturgical celebrations with a variety of lore associated with its origins, Valentine’s Day was a feast day in honour of St. Valentine, and became prominent as a spring rite in celebration of courtship and love.  While detractors may be put off by commercialization, it is a day to reflect on the role of social relationships in support of health

Long been a favourite variable in epidemiological studies, in the mid 1850’s William Farr first demonstrated that marriage bestowed longer life than celibacy, and that the loss of lifetime partner subsequently reduced life expectancy of the remaining widow/widower.

The list of proposed benefits range from reduced cancer and dementia rates, lower surgical interventions, less hospitalization.  Uncoupled persons were substantively higher at risk for violent outcomes including homicide, suicide, even motor vehicle crashes. The one down side to marriage appears to be an increase in obesity. 

Subtler nuanced work demonstrates that happiness within the couple further extends benefit, and discord can actually result in worse health outcomes than being single.  Biochemical and immunological changes associated with increased or reduced stress may explain a portion of the variance.

As the institution of marriage has morphed through cohabitation arrangements, extended life expectancy and acceptance of same-sex coupling, the traditional family has changed.  While two thirds of Canada’s families remain in traditional marriages, substantial increases in common-law arrangements were noted between the last two censi.  Same sex marriages increased by over 40% between 2006 and 2011.  12% of family units involving children were blended families. More on marriage in the census can be found at Stats Can 2011 census on families

Divorce rates have decreased slightly recently but have been relative constant since reform of the Divorce Act in the late 1980s.  Still an estimated 40& of first marriages will end with divorce in Canada, Failure rates of subsequent marriages increase.  Putting those who have divorced at higher health risk than still married.  Ages of divorce have steadily been increasing over the past two decades.   More on demographics of failed marriage can be found at Employnent and Social development Canada

 Lifetime coupling remains a significant health benefit, and on Valentine’s Day, a time to renew investment in that commitment for those who have entered into a marriage arrangements.  For those still exploring, Valentine’s Day starts a nearly two century old traditional of spring time romancing. 

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