About that study which purportedly found that “Men married to smart women live longer”

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The actual title of the paper is: “Marital partner and mortality: The effects of the social positions of both spouses,” by Robert Erikson and Jenny Torssander

From here:

Background: Individual socioeconomic position -like education, social class, social status, and income -are all associated with mortality. Inequalities in death also appear along household measures. It is however less clear how the socioeconomic position of one marital/cohabiting partner influences the mortality of the other partner. We examine the independent effect on mortality of own and partner’s positions regarding these four socioeconomic factors.

Methods: Register data on education, social class, social status, and income of both marital/cohabiting partners were collected from the 1990 Census of the employed Swedish population aged 30-59 (N=1 502 148). Data on all-cause mortality and deaths from cancer and circulatory disease for the subsequent period 1991-2003 were collected from the Cause of Death Register. Relative mortality risks were estimated by Cox regression.

Results: All-cause mortality of both men and women differs by women’s education and status and by men’s social class and income. For men, the wife’s education is more important for the mortality risk than his own education, when the man’s social class is included in the model. For women, the husband’s social class yields larger mortality differences than own occupational measures. Women’s education and men’s social class are particularly important for women’s deaths from circulatory diseases.

Conclusion: The partner’s social position has a clear independent association with individual mortality, and women’s education and men’s social class seem to be particularly important. Suggested explanations of health inequality are not always compatible with the observed relationship between partner’s social and economic resources and mortality.

The entire research report is accessible here (PDF). From the discussion:

Many of the mechanisms suggested as explanations for the connection between the individual position in the stratification structure and mortality:for example, life course strain, status31 and intelligence cannot easily be related to the position of the partner. For example, the IQ hypothesis seems to receive support from the important role of education, but this hypothesis is difficult to reconcile with the weak effect of men’s education when their partner’s education has been controlled for. The background of, for example, large mortality risk differences between social classes and income groups could be based on cumulative effects of experiences over the life-course, even starting before birth, but how should the effects of the partner’s education and occupation be interpreted from a life course perspective? Furthermore, it is difficult to estimate the importance of Marmot’s status syndrome from our results, since status, in his interpretation, is related to almost any hierarchical relation in the social structure. Can we assume that it is also applicable to the partner’s positions? It seems to us that lifestyle and material conditions are the factors most easily reconciled with the results presented here, as partners can be assumed to share lifestyle and women may to a greater extent than men determine the lifestyle of the family, while men stand for most of its economic resources.

It is clear that none of the hypotheses about why there are social differences in mortality between people in different social positions can be ruled out by our results. It is also clear that while all of them may stand for some part of the association, our results suggest that none of them can be assumed to account for a large part of it. However, specific partner characteristics like women’s education and men’s social class are clearly influential beyond own position and other partner characteristics. These more specific mechanisms linking a partner’s socioeconomic position to an individual’s own longevity need to be more carefully studied.

The results of this study have gotten distorted by many different accounts in the mainstream media, as is so common with anything scientific that seems to support the notion that women and men are very different from each other.

–Ann Bartow

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