Men with a stronger hand grip are more likely to be married than men with a weaker grip, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Aging Center. Grip strength was not a factor in the marital status of women.
Previous studies have found grip strength to be an established measure of health and have shown that it is linked to one’s ability to cope independently. Grip strength can also predict the risk of cardiovascular diseases and mortality.
“Our results hint that women may be favoring partners who signal strength and vigor when they marry,” said Vegard Skirbekk, Ph.D., professor, Columbia Aging Center and Mailman School professor of Population and Family Health. “If longer-lived women marry healthier men, then both may avoid or defer the role of caregiver, while less healthy men remain unmarried and must look elsewhere for assistance.”
Based on a population study of 5,009 adults from Tromsø, Norway, the researchers analyzed the link between marital status and grip strength in two successive groups of people: those born 1923-35 and 1936-48.
The research team evaluated the connection between respondents’ marital status and grip strength when respondents were between the ages of 59 and 71. This information was matched with the Norwegian national death registry. Handgrip strength was assessed using a vigorimeter, a device that asks participants to squeeze a rubber balloon.
Grip strength is particularly important for older adults, and has implications for a number of health risks, including heart disease and fractures. It is also important for physical mobility, the capacity to be socially active and healthy, as well as quality of life. At the same time, marriage offers many of these same benefits.
The study revealed a greater number of unmarried men with low grip strength in the second cohort — those born 1936-48 — than in the first cohort, reflecting social trends that have increasingly de-emphasized the importance of marriage.
“In recent decades, women are less dependent on men economically. At the same time, men have a growing ‘health dependence’ on women,” says Skirbekk. “The fact that many men are alone with a weak grip — a double burden for these men who lack both strength and a lack of support that comes from being married — suggests that more attention needs to be given to this group, particularly given their relatively poor health.”
To help this population, the researchers suggest housing arrangements that would facilitate social interaction. In addition, counseling can help prepare these individuals for old age and offer information on how to avoid negative health consequences of independent living.
“New technologies may potentially offset some of the limitations that low grip strength may imply,” said Skirbekk. “Social policies could also increasingly target this group by providing financial support for those who suffer the double-burden of low strength and lack of spousal support.”
The findings are published online in the journal SSM-Population Health.