The Effect of Marital Status on Life Expectancy: Is Cohabitation as Protective as Marriage?

Anne G. Balter*, Dorethe S. Bjerre, Malene Kallestrup-Lamb

*Corresponding author for this work

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It is well-known that marital status is an important predictor for life expectancy. However, non-married individuals are often misclassified as singles which ignores the heterogeneity within the group. This paper shows the importance of distinguishing between types of singles, and in particular whether they are cohabiting, when predicting life expectancies. We use unique and detailed longitudinal register data to track marital status throughout the individual's lifetime. We find that all types of singles consistently benefit from living with a spouse, i.e., after divorce, becoming widower or being never married. This result holds for both men and women. For certain types of cohabiting singles we reject significant differences in life expectancy compared to married individuals. Finally, we use a case study to show that, like married individuals, all types of singles that cohabit also serve as informal caregivers and have the potential to limit the end-of-life long-term care expenditure levels.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Demographic Economics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)373–394
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Cohabitation
  • Health expenditure
  • Life expectancies
  • Longevity
  • Marital status
  • Mortality

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