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How Marriage (and Divorce) Tips the Scales for Men and Women Weight Gain Trends in Marriage and Divorce

Marriage is linked to a heightened risk for significant weight gain among women. For men, the pounds come a little bit later—after the divorce.

Cut the cake! Both men and women are likely to pack on a few extra pounds after they get married. That modest figure is an average—it also includes married folks who gain or lose a significant amount of weight upon tying the knot. And according to a new study, marriage is linked to a heightened risk for major weight gain among women. For men, the pounds come a little bit later: after the divorce.

Add a steady waist measurement to one of the many social perks of marrying as a man. Married men make more money and get more promotions than single guys. They live longer, have less heart disease, drink less, smoke less weed, and experience less stress. Meanwhile, married women have less fulfilling sex lives and less free time than their husbands. They also have smaller paychecks. (They do get to keep smoking the same amount of weed). These factors help explain why women are less into marriage than men are. And they may also contribute to the gendered risk of gaining weight after getting hitched.

Bluntly, marriage "is more beneficial for men than for women," write Ohio State University sociologists Dmitry Tumin and Zhenchao Qian. "Men after marriage do not gain [significant] weight because they enjoy a healthy lifestyle and receive stronger emotional support"—in other words, they've got the time, energy, and help to maintain a steady weight, thanks to the sacrifices of their spouses. Across the aisle, though, "the unsettling effect of a marriage for women may be strong enough to cause large weight gain."

Predictably, the male advantage expires with the union: "Because of strong benefits of marriage for men, leaving marriage puts their health in jeopardy as they tend to experience weight loss as well as large weight gains," the researchers write. But it's worth noting that when men do gain some weight, they don't face the social stigmas that heavier women do. And that's a central explanation for why women are at risk of gaining weight after marrying: When marriages begin, men and women don't start out on balanced scales. Women "work harder to maintain a lower body weight when not married," Tumin and Qian write. Wives may actually be more likely to enter marriage underweight, as the dating economy privileges skinnier women, and wedding culture urges them to slim down even more before the big day.

With marriage, new social pressures kick in for women, and they don' t always encourage artificial thinness. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage periodically fields letters from men complaining about their wives' post-wedding bodies. While Savage has encouraged these husbands to "make sure your wife has the free time she needs to take care of herself," he's also described weight gain as "the mother of all take-you-for-granted moves, one that quickly kills desire and slowly smothers love," and has advised spouses that gaining weight "can constitute grounds for cheating and/or leaving."

Before giving men free reign to screw around on their wives, let's remember that both marital weight gain and social expectations of slimness are highly gendered. This study sends an additional message to dissatisfied husbands: The major factor in your wife's weight gain may have been meeting you.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user perezramerstorfer

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