Can’t we just live together? New evidence on the effect of relationship status on health

Publication type

Research Paper


SSRN Working Paper Series


Publication date

January 1, 2010


An extensive literature suggests that marriage confers health benefits to men and women. However, several econometric issues raise doubts about this prevalent conclusion. First, measures of morbidity vary across studies making comparisons difficult and the often used categorical measure of self-assessed health raises difficult interpretation and econometric issues. Second, extant research relies almost exclusively on fixed-effects models to control for selection into marriage without addressing the strong persistence in health. In addition, existing research has not confirmed whether these benefits accrue to couples who cohabit. We use a multiple correspondence analysis to identify instruments for a continuous health index that reflects the multiple facets of morbidity and alleviates the econometric issues associated with a discrete dependent variable. We use the Blundell and Bond dynamic panel data estimator to control for selection into marital status by instrumenting marital status with its lagged levels and lagged differences. Contrary to extant literature, our analysis using a balanced panel of nearly 2,430 individuals over 17 waves of the British Household Panel Survey finds that the effect of cohabitation on health is not statistically different from the effect of marriage on health after controlling for both selection and health dynamics.




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