Several studies have found that marriage has health benefits, but new research shows that living in a partnership – married or not – is good for your health. Couples living together in long-term relationships seem to be as healthy as married couples, according to a study led by Dr Brienna Perelli-Harris at the ESRC Centre for Population Change.

The study compared data from five countries: the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Norway. The findings indicate that there is a consistent, positive association between living in a partnership and health in middle age across all countries.

Partnerships seem to be important for both men and women's health, but other aspects of people's lives contribute to how they rate their health – and whether they feel that they benefit from living with a partner.

Earlier research suggests that in the UK and US, living together without being married is associated with disadvantage and poverty. Welfare policies can also strengthen this trend; low benefits coupled with low income can make it more difficult for individuals to become sufficiently secure financially to feel they are in a position to marry.

In contrast to the US and UK, respondents in Australia, Norway, and Germany rate their health at similar levels regardless of whether they are cohabiting or married in middle age. In Australia there is a legal recognition of cohabiting partnerships which likely follows a general social acceptance where fewer people feel the need to marry. Norway has a long history of cohabitation without any current stigma attached, and is moving towards legally equalising cohabitation and marriage.

“Significant differences between cohabitation and marriage are only evident in the US and the UK, however they disappear when economic background is taken into account,” the researchers state in a concluding paragraph. “The findings suggest that cohabitation in the US and UK, both liberal welfare regimes, seems to be very different than in the other countries. The results challenge the assumption that only marriage is beneficial for health.”