Mom was right, marry a doctor! Your spouse’s education can boost your health, study shows

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — If you fall for your college sweetheart, encourage them to go on to graduate school! Researchers from Indiana University say a spouse’s education may influence the health of their significant other.

Previous studies have shown that more formal education can contribute to better overall health, but the team says this is the first study to report that a great education is beneficial to a partner as well.

In more scientific terms, study authors report spousal education is positively related to people’s overall health. Moreover, they even found that the size of this spousal effect is nearly as impactful on well-being as a person’s own education.

“Our results show that who you’re married to, and how much education they have, matter for your health,” says Andrew Halpern-Manners, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at IU, in a university release. “This provides further evidence that education, in addition to being valuable for individuals, is also a sharable resource.”

These findings come from data originally collected by the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a long-term project that began in 1957. That project focused on individuals, their spouses, their siblings, and their siblings’ spouses, all while collecting relevant data pertaining to health, marriages, and education. With the project beginning in the 1950s, researchers note the data only includes information on heterosexual couples.

Women benefit more from a brainy husband?

According to study co-author Elaine Hernandez, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at IU, scientists have observed for quite some time that people married to more educated spouses tend to be healthier. However, it’s been tough up until now to isolate the unique, singular impact of a spouse’s education on their significant other.

In pursuit of some clarity, study authors compared the self-rated health of siblings whose spouses had different education levels. Their goal was to identify pairs of people with very similar backgrounds, and then investigate if their spouses’ educations may help explain health differences.

Sure enough, they discovered that the effect of a spouse’s level of education on health is indeed positive and relatively large. This indicates, at least on a preliminary basis, that marrying a highly educated person may be just as beneficial from a health perspective as pursuing further higher education for your own good. It’s worth noting that this trend was particularly apparent among women. That finding may be more indicative of trends during the 1960s and 1970s, though, researchers suggest.

“The fact that we observe significant cross-over effects means that education has health-enhancing benefits for the individual, but it also has tangible benefits for those around them — especially intimate ties,” Prof. Halpern-Manners concludes. “This underscores the importance of education—as a public good worth investing in —and suggests that its overall public health impact may be larger than we typically imagine.”

The study is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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