MONDAY, Jan. 23, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Marriage offers few well-being advantages compared to living together, a new study contends.
The study also found that the benefits of marriage diminish over time, while unmarried couples who live together experience greater happiness and self-esteem.
Researchers examined data from 2,737 single men and women who took part in the U.S. National Survey of Families and Households. Of those people, 896 married or moved in with a partner over a period of six years.
Both marriage and cohabitation led to short-term increases in levels of happiness and fewer depressive symptoms, compared to being single.
But people who were newly married or cohabitating had less contact with parents and friends than single people, and this effect continued over time, according to the study in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
"We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period. Also while married couples experienced health gains -- likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared health care plans -- cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem," said study author Kelly Musick, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology, in a journal news release. "For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy and personal growth."
"Compared to most industrial countries, America continues to value marriage above other family forms," she noted. "However, our research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits."
The U.S. Administration for Children and Families outlines the benefits of healthy marriages.