View Articles published in SSM - Population HealthAbstract. Marriage is associated with better mental health. While research on the mental health of cohabiting individuals has increased in recent years, it has yielded mixed results thus far. We assessed whether the mental health of cohabiters is comparable to that of married individuals or those living alone using longitudinal data on psychotropic medication purchases. Panel data from an 11% random sample of the population residing in Finland for the years 1995 to 2007, with annual measurements of all covariates, were used. Ordinary least squares (OLS) models were applied to disentangle the relation between cohabitation and psychotropic medication purchases while controlling for relevant time-varying factors (age, education, economic activity and number of children), and individual fixed effect (FE) models to further account for unobserved time-invariant individual factors. Our sample consisted of 63077 men and 61101 women aged 25 to 39 years in 1995. Descriptive results and the OLS model indicated that the likelihood of purchasing psychotropic medication was lowest for married individuals, higher for cohabiters, and highest for singles. This difference between cohabiting and married individuals disappeared after controlling for time-varying covariates (percent difference (% diff) for men: 0.3, 95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.0, 0.6; % diff for women: -0.2, 95% CI: -0.6, 0.2). Further controlling for unobserved confounders in the FE models did not change this non-significant difference between cohabiting and married individuals. The excess purchases of psychotropic medication among individuals living alone compared to those cohabiting decreased to 1.2 (95% CI: 1.0, 1.4) and 1.4 (95% CI: 1.1, 1.6) percentage-points in the fully-adjusted FE model for men and women, respectively. Similar results were found for all subcategories of psychotropic medication. In summary, these findings suggested that the mental health difference between cohabiting and married individuals, but not the difference between single and cohabiting individuals, was largely due to selection.

K. van Hedel, P. Martikainen, H. Moustgaard, M. Myrskylä. “Cohabitation and mental health: Is psychotropic medication use more common in cohabitation than marriage?” (2018). SSM – Population Health. 4:244-253. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2018.01.001. (Open Access)

Research highlights
–  Mental health of cohabiters is worse than that of married individuals.
–  Controlling for (un)observed confounding explained the disadvantage of cohabiters.
–  Cohabiters have better mental health than those living alone.
–  (Un)observed factors did not explain the worse mental health of those living alone.
–  Marriage and cohabitation provide similar mental health benefits after adjustments.