The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

No Spouse, No Energy

Health economists estimate that fatigue-related losses in American productivity amount to more than $100 billion annually.  It is therefore entirely understandable that researchers at Stony Brook University recently set to work seeking “insight into the prevalence of fatigue in the general population [so as to] facilitate a better understanding of who is more or less likely to seek healthcare and why.”  Their findings suggest that wedding rings may prove far more effective in preventing fatigue than any energy drink!

The researchers begin their inquiry aware that fatigue constitutes “a common reason for seeking medical care and a source of considerable economic burden”—hardly surprising, given that in a recent survey “38% of US workers reported being fatigued.” Though fatigue may be simply “a subjective feeling or a decrement in a person’s ability to perform up to a certain standard,” the researchers point out that it is “a common pathological feature of various medical conditions including chronic heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic insomnia, and depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.”

To identify who is particularly vulnerable to fatigue, the researchers use a newly developed diagnostic tool as well as two well established diagnostic instruments to parse data collected between July 2006 and March 2007 from a random sample of 666 men and women representative of America’s gender, ethnic, age, and educational make-up.

Regardless of which diagnostic instrument they rely on, the researchers find that marital status is a strong statistical predictor of fatigue.  The researchers conclude that “married individuals reported significantly less fatigue compared to unmarried people on all scales” (p < 0.01 for all three diagnostic instruments).

The researchers view the linkage between marital status and fatigue in their study as “consistent with other literature investigating the role of romantic relationships in the experience of fatigue.”  “Shared responsibility of household tasks and duties may alleviate feelings of mental and physical tiredness and exhaustion,” reason the researchers, who turn to a raft of earlier studies showing “that marriage can act as a buffer against health complaints and somatic symptoms,” studies establishing that “being single . . . [is] associated with elevated depressed symptomatology in chronic pain, decreased quality of life in coronary heart disease, and higher mortality rates in the elderly.”

The Stony Brook scholars hope that their findings can “inform tailored treatment plans [for fatigue] and more cost-effective utilization of healthcare resources.”  But their findings actually suggest that the most cost-effective measures open to public health officials may be those that foster enduring wedlock.

(Doerte U. Junghaenel et al., “Demographic Correlates of Fatigue in the US General Population: Results from the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System [PROMIS] Initiative,” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 71.3 [2011]: 117-23.)