Marriage has long been said to be good for health. Now, however, a study has suggested that while married men are healthier than their single counterparts, women hardly benefit from tying the knot.
Research by University College London, the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found single women did not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.
In fact, middle-aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome - a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity - as their married counterparts.
Although single women showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker signifying a greater risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than levels in unmarried men. The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems which was raised 14 per cent in single men but was barely noticeable in unmarried women.
"Not marrying or cohabiting is less detrimental among women than men," said Dr George Ploubidis, a population health scientist at the UCL Institute of Education. "Being married appears to be more beneficial for men."
The research also showed that getting divorced did not have a harmful impact on future health for either men or women as long as they found a new long-term partner.
"Numerous studies have found that married people have better health than unmarried people.
"However, our research shows that people who experience separation, divorce and remarriage have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married.
"Previous research has also shown that men experience an initial decline after divorce, but we found that in the long-term they tend to revert to their pre-divorce health status.
"Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry, were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared with those who were married."
The team analysed information on more than 10,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in the same week of spring 1958.
The study is the first to investigate the links between partnership status and health in middle age in a large sample of the population that had undergone medical examinations.
Marriage was thought to benefit people for several physical and psychological reasons. It was thought that wives encouraged husbands to keep physically fit, eat properly and visit their doctor.
Women in contrast were thought to benefit emotionally because they valued being in a relationship.
The new study showed that while there was a small health impact for men who never married, it appeared a long-term relationship was enough to keep people happy and healthy.
Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation pointed out that there was more to marriage than health benefits.
"The whole point of marriage is to affirm commitment that couples make for their own stability and for the benefit of their children," he said.
"Married parents are far more likely to stay together, independent of age or education. Whether marriage makes couples healthier is neither here nor there."
A major study in 2011 found that being married lowered the risk of premature death by 15 per cent. World Health Organisation research in 2010 found marriage could reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.