Flat-Out False: Media Reports of the Health of Married Couples
Did you see the media headlines this past week proclaiming the superiority of married couples over singles? On Valentine’s Day, the Huffington Post featured a story under this heading: “Married couples healthier than single people, study finds.” This headline was totally, completely, flat-out false, and it wasn’t only the Huffington Post that published something like that.
In the study in question, ONLY married people participated. It is not possible for a study to show that married people are healthier than single people if the only people who participated in the study were married people.
I wanted to read the original study for myself, as I always do whenever I can. So I went to the journal site, but the study had not yet been published. I have access to “online first,” whereby some journals will release reports online even before an entire issue is ready to be posted or published. But the study in question was not even available in that online-first format.
In fact, there is just one official description of the study – a press release. I emailed the author and she confirmed that the headlines such as the ones at the Huffington Post were flat-out wrong, and that the study is not yet available. She promised to send me a copy when it is; I don’t have it yet. So as for what the study really did say, I cannot report based on my own reading of it. But it did not say what the Huffington Post and other media sources claimed that it did.
The Huffington Post story links to another claim (in the media, not in an academic journal) that marrieds are superior to single people in their health. I have critiqued that, too. Suggestions that if you get married, you will become happier and healthier are rampant. They are all suspect, as I explained in Singled Out. It is not possible to test that claim definitively, because experimental methods cannot be used to randomly assign people to get married or stay single or get unmarried. The methods that are used (instead of the ideal but impossible one) are often deeply flawed.
The really sad thing about this latest spate of utterly false headlines – other than the typical egregious singles-bashing that they entail – is that a whole array of so-called journalists published stories without ever reading the original research report they were describing. They just took the press release at face value. That’s not an act of journalism – it is just transcribing. Those who went beyond mere retyping of the press release by interviewing the author listed on the press release were not practicing journalism, either, in my opinion – they were giving the author and the university free PR.
The publicity, though, was hardly “free.” It was costly to the 100 million single Americans, once again targeted with singlism under the guise of science and journalism. It was costly to every reader who actually wanted to read about actual research findings. Shame on everyone who took part in this charade.
Now, nearly a week later, after who knows how many thousands of people read the original false claim, the headline has been reworded. That’s a step in the right direction. But I bet my autographed Mickey Mantle baseball glove that the reporter who wrote the story for the Huffington Post still has not read the original research report. And the links to the other misleading stories are still there, without qualification.
I’ll mention one more example of shoddy journalism about singles, since I have been getting questions about this one, too. At the Daily Beast, there is a lengthy story about the increasing number of Americans not having children. In the original version, I was mentioned, but the authors used the word singlism incorrectly. I contacted both authors and emailed the Daily Beast. One author, Harry Siegel, responded graciously and said he’d get it fixed.
The revised paragraph looks like this:
“Amid this shift, the childless and even the partnerless life has gained something of a cultural cachet, with some suggesting they represent not just a legitimate choice but a superior one. It’s a burgeoning movement that’s joined cultural tastemakers, academics, neo-Malthusians, greens, feminists, Democratic politicians, urban planners, and big developers. Unlike families, whose members, after all, are often stuck with one another, she praises singles as enjoying “intentional communities” and being more likely “to think about human connectedness in a way that is far-reaching and less predictable.””
Who is the unnamed “she”? Yes, that would be me. My name is no longer in the article, having been deleted along with the incorrect use of singlism (which was rightly deleted – yeah!). So now the “she” is just dangling. I emailed the author who was gracious the first time and I re-contacted the Daily Beast, but to no effect. I guess you only get one correction per article.
Maybe I’ll write about the substance of that story sometime. Probably, though, you can already anticipate my point of view.
UPDATE: Just got contacted by a Daily Beast editor; the dangling “she” has been corrected. Good to hear.
[Note. If you sent me a link to any of these articles and would like to be credited, please let me know. I like to thank my sources, when it is OK with them!]
Wedding couple’s hands photo available from Shutterstock
DePaulo, B. (2013). Flat-Out False: Media Reports of the Health of Married Couples. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2013/02/flat-out-false-media-reports-of-the-health-of-married-couples/