We know being married gives your health a boost. But a study in the journal Stress shows that people who are married may be less reactive to stress overall—their hormones don’t spike as high in anxious situations. And the benefit applies to people who are in a close, committed relationship, even if they haven’t tied the knot.
The researchers from Northwestern University and University of Chicago used a population of graduate students, with a mean age of 29. The subjects took a computer test that the researchers told them was a course requirement and would affect their job prospects—so the pressure was on.
Everyone’s cortisol (stress hormone) levels went up during the test. But if the subjects checked a box indicating they were married or in a serious, committed relationship, stress hormones did not spike as high. Single people appeared to be more reactive to anxiety.
Married and committed men also had lower baseline levels of testosterone, which the scientists had an evolutionary explanation for.This dip in testosterone is seen in primate species and birds that form long-lasting pair bonds and raise babies together. After the babies are born, if the male sticks around to help with childrearing and stay close, testosterone levels go down.
We’re biologically programmed to attach and stay together—whether that means getting married, being in a relationship, or forming close communities—our hormones give us a little push towards staying connected to help each other and raise our little ones.