Why Marriage and Health?

You may have heard it said before that married people live longer than unmarried people. Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to understand why yet many questions remain unanswered. For example:

  • 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 health care system?
  • How does being in a heterosexual or same-sex marriage matter in terms of health and relationships for men and women?

This is where the Health and Relationships Project – or HARP – 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 relationships navigate the many different situations and contexts that contribute to their health.


Some of the ways we see this study influencing health policy and health care include:

  • Development of policies and programs that result in more effective partner participation in health care and more efficient use of health care systems – which will  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



The HARP is committed to using the most cutting-edge and innovative research methods. We are also very grateful for the time our participants give to the project, which is why we will be giving couples who qualify and complete the surveys a $100 American Express gift card for participating in the HARP study.

We are currently surveying gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples who are currently married, have lived together for at least 3 years, and both spouses are age 35 to 65.

This study has two parts. First, you and your spouse will each complete the initial online survey separately. This survey will take 35 to 45 minutes. In the survey you will each be asked questions about stress, your relationship, and how you have approached health problems and health care. Second, you will be asked to fill out a series of short daily online surveys about your  stress levels, relationship experiences, and mood (each daily survey takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete). You will fill out the  daily surveys every evening for 10 days; each day, we will send you a secure link (via email) to the online questionnaire. All information from the questionnaires will be completely confidential, and will provide valuable data to help us break new ground in understanding some of the day-to-day factors that influence health in the long term.

This study is now closed. Thank you to our participants! Stay tuned for updates.


Previous Study

The Health and Relationships Project is an outgrowth from our previous study, the Massachusetts Health and Relationships Project (MassHARP). Data from the interviews we conducted in Massachusetts provided information that led to the questions we ask in the new USAHarp surveys. Dr. Umberson has presented her research from MassHarp at the U.S. Census Bureau, many leading universities in the United States, and at meetings of the American Sociological Association, the Gerontological Society of America, and the Population Association of America. She is currently writing a book on the ways that spouses take care of each other during periods of serious illness.


This project is supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research awarded to Dr. Debra Umberson (for the in-depth interview research) and a grant from the National Institute on Aging (for the health diary research; NIA grant #R21AG044585). Dr. Umberson 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