Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

November 23, 1998

The salubrious effects of matrimony can even counteract the
heart-stopping effects of an expanding waistline.

Michael Segell MSNBC

EXCEPT FOR CERTAIN male species like squirrel monkey dads, who carry
their young around on their back, primates take an Ozzie-and-Harriet
approach to raising kids: the moms do it all.
Among some of the less evolved primates, the impregnators donít even
stick around to see whether their mating forays were successful.
But apparently the primate-longevity finding is relative, too: Monkey
guys with a strong paternal side live longer than bounders who couldnít
care less about their progeny. Even though most male primates donít do
much nurturing, some do a lot of mentoring - which certainly counts as
parenting. Wizened tusker chimpanzees, for instance, bond with youthful
males after the females leave to find their way into a new troop. They
share food with their proteges, and instruct them in the nuances of
chimp politics.
Mature baboons, too, teach the younger guys what to worry about in the
forest. According to psychiatrist Tom Insel, director of Emory
Universityís Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, senior baboons work
tirelessly to convey to their callow troop mates the difference between
the alarm call that signals the presence of a deadly snake and the one
used to announce a nearby hawk "because they've got to be damned sure,
for both their sake, that the younger guys don't mix them up."
Among human primates the linkages between family connectedness and
longevity are more obvious. It would be difficult for researchers to
credit women's greater expected life span - about an eight-year
advantage over men - with the fact that they still are the parent most
responsible for raising kids. But for men, the benefits of hands-on
involvement are more easily traceable.
Let's start with a recent analysis of a 40-year-long study of fathers
and sons. The Glueck study, detailed by psychologist John Snarey in the
book "How Fathers Care for the Next Generation," found that hands-on
fathers not only enjoy greater career mobility than distant dads but
are more happily married. "Fathers who are better at listening to their
kids are probably better at listening to their spouses," says Snarey.
Other studies show that men who are highly esteemed by their wives
lavish more praise upon their preschool children.

And, of course, marital happiness offers men a variety of health
benefits, adding more years to his life than it does to his wife's. A
divorced man, for instance, is six times as likely as a married man to
die from cirrhosis of the liver. A man whoís particularly isolated can
expect to live about nine years less than someone whoís socially well
Investigators at the RAND Center for the Study of Aging in Santa
Monica, Calif., recently learned that marriage can dramatically improve
the longevity prospects even of men in relatively poor health. Their
study found that these comparatively frail men were more likely than
robust men to get married, and at a younger age. Yet they ended up
with an extra three to four years more life than their single peers.
The salubrious effects of matrimony can even counteract the
heart-stopping effects of an expanding waistline. Men gain more weight
as a result of being married than women do, yet still live longer than
bachelors. And the death of a spouse is far more critical to male
longevity than female: the risk of dying in the first year after their
spouseís death goes up by 20 percent for men, and decreases slightly
for women.
How to explain that? Well, because of her multiple burdens - kids,
home, career - a woman's stress hormones actually diminish and her
blood pressure drops when she goes to her office, then both kick back
up again when she goes home (the opposite of man's pattern). That means
she finds her husband kind of troubling to be around.
So obviously it's in his best interest to keep her happy and alive,
since her soothing presence boosts his chances of hanging on longer.
That means ordering takeout twice a week, delivering his own shirts to
the laundry and vacuuming the living room on Saturday mornings.
Oh, and taking more care of the kids.

Michael Segell writes The Male Mind, a monthly Esquire magazine column,
and the men's health column in Sports Afield.

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