By Anne Harding
NEW YORK — Men wanting to enjoy a long life should marry a well educated woman, according to a Swedish study.
Researchers from the Swedish Institute for Social Research in Stockholm found that a woman's education was a stronger factor in her husband's risk of dying over the next decade or so than the man's own level of education.
But a husband's social class based on his occupation had a greater influence on a woman's survival than her own occupational class, according to researchers Robert Erikson and Jenny Torssander.
"Women traditionally take more responsibility for the home than men do, and, as a consequence, women's education might be more important for the family's lifestyle — for example, in terms of food habits — than men's education," said the researchers.
"We can assume that more highly educated women have better possibilities to find the important health messages that are around ... There are lots of health messages in the media and I think some of them are important and some are just misleading."
Erikson told Reuters Health that living with a partner is known to reduce a person's risk of dying early and the current study suggests that one's choice of life partner may be an important part of the equation.
He said the effect of a partner's social status is multi-dimensional, with education, income, occupation and status each having an independent effect.
Erikson and Torssander's study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 1990 census data on more than 1.5 million employed men and women, aged 30 to 59, who were living with a partner, along with cause of death data for the period 1991 to 2003.
As expected, for both men and women mortality was higher for less educated people and for those who made less money, while lower social status and working in a lower-level occupation were also tied to a greater risk of death. Men who hadn't reached high school were 1.1 times more likely to die during follow-up than men who'd finished college.
But the education of a man's partner had a stronger effect than his own schooling. Men living with a woman without any high school education were 1.25 times more likely to die than men living with a college graduate.
The effect of women's education on their own mortality was strong too.
While a woman's own occupational class had little effect on her risk of death, women married to unskilled manual and routine non-manual laborers were 1.25 times more likely to die than women whose partners were in higher managerial and professional occupations.
The researchers said the men's social class had less of an effect when the researchers accounted for income while income was important in mortality for both women and men.
"This points very clearly to material conditions in the household," said Erikson.
October 6, 2009 — Return to cover.