Why Marriage and Health?
You may have heard it said before that married couples live longer than unmarried people. Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to understand why, asking questions like:
- How do spouses support each other when one spouse is sick or injured?
- How do spouses influence each other’s health behaviors – like exercise, healthy eating, smoking, and drinking?
- How does having a spouse change how people interact with doctors, hospitals, and other parts of the healthcare system?
- How does being in a straight or same-sex marriage matter in terms of health and relationships?
Simply put, we still don’t know the answers to these questions! And that’s where the Massachusetts Health and Relationships Project – or MassHARP – fits in. We want to bring research on long-term marriage and health to a new level by looking at how individuals in different kinds of long-term marriages – gay, lesbian and straight – navigate the many different situations and contexts that contribute to their health.
The Massachusetts Health and Relationships Project (MassHARP) aims to better understand how the dynamics of marriage impact health in various areas, including health behaviors at home, how spouses care for one another during illness and injury, and how health care providers involve spouses in one another’s health care.
MassHARP hopes to inform health policy by shedding light on how dynamics around health and health care vary gay, lesbian and straight marriages. Some of the ways we see this study influencing health policy and health care include:
- Policies that result in more health-promoting behavior, more effective partner participation in health care, and more efficient use of health care systems – which will each have the potential to reduce health care costs and improve the health and well-being of individuals and couples.
- Better training for doctors and other health care professionals on how to help spouses and partners support each other through illness or injury
MassHARP is committed to using the most current and innovative research methods. We are also very grateful for the time our participants put in to being involved in the project, which is why we give each couple $50 in giftcards for participating in the two parts of the MassHARP study.
We are currently interviewing gay, lesbian, and straight couples who have been married for at least five years and living with their partner (either as a cohabiting partner or married) for a total of six years. Spouses are interviewed separately, and all information is completely confidential and anonymous. Couples who are interviewed receive a $25 gift card to thank them for their time.
Some of the questions we will be addressing include:
- How do partners provide emotional and physical care to one another during periods of illness and injury? What are the strains and rewards associated with this care?
- How do partners influence one another to seek health care (including preventive care) and to comply with medical advice?
- How do partners influence access to health care, quality of care, and health insurance?
- How are partners involved with one another’s health care providers?
- When, why, and how do partners influence one another’s health habits (e.g., exercise, smoking, drinking)?
The second part of the study is our online health diary study. We are very excited about this cutting edge research tool! Each participant is asked to fill out a five minute survey online every night for 2 weeks that asks questions about daily experiences that that may influence their relationship and their health that day. For example, we consider how stress levels, health problems and mood influence relationships and health habits each day. These surveys are confidential and secure, and will provide us with valuable data to help us break new ground in understanding some of the day-to-day factors that influence health in the long term.
Couples receive a $25 gift card for participating in the interview portion of our study and an additional $25 gift card after completing the health diary study, for a total of $50 for every couple who participates.
This project is supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research awarded to Dr. Debra Umberson. Dr. Umberson is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She has a long-standing commitment to understanding and promoting the benefits of relationships for the health and well-being of all Americans. For more information about Dr. Umberson and research visit: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/sociology/faculty/dju