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Keywords:

  • Spouse;
  • smoking;
  • alcohol;
  • exercise;
  • preventive services

Objective. This study examines the degree to which a married individual's health habits and use of preventive medical care are influenced by his or her spouse's behaviors.

Study Design. Using longitudinal data on individuals and their spouses, we examine changes over time in the health habits of each person as a function of changes in his or her spouse's health habits. Specifically, we analyze changes in smoking, drinking, exercising, cholesterol screening, and obtaining a flu shot.

Data Source. This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of individuals born between 1931 and 1941 and their spouses. Beginning in 1992, 12,652 persons (age-eligible individuals as well as their spouses) from 7,702 households were surveyed about many aspects of their life, including health behaviors, use of preventive services, and disease diagnosis.

Sample. The analytic sample includes 6,072 individuals who are married at the time of the initial HRS survey and who remain married and in the sample at the time of the 1996 and 2000 waves.

Principal Findings. We consistently find that when one spouse improves his or her behavior, the other spouse is likely to do so as well. This is found across all the behaviors analyzed, and persists despite controlling for many other factors.

Conclusions. Simultaneous changes occur in a number of health behaviors. This conclusion has prescriptive implications for developing interventions, treatments, and policies to improve health habits and for evaluating the impact of such measures.