Study discovers the obvious: Married men eat better

Anna Quindlen

October 19, 1990|By Anna Quindlen

SOME OF the best comedians right now are women, and the best of the woman comedians is named Rita Rudner. She does great bits on men, and in one of them she says: "Men don't live well by themselves. They don't even live like people. They live like bears with furniture."

I always wondered about that furniture part.

Since the observations of female comedians, women lawyers, my aunt Gloria, the entire membership of the Hadassah, the League of Women Voters nationwide and the woman who lives across the street from me don't count as empirical evidence, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have done a study that shows that men need to be married or they starve to death.

They studied 7,651 American adults to come to this conclusion.

This is why we think scientists are wasting their research money. This study says that men between the ages of 45 and 64 who live alone or with somebody other than a wife are twice as likely to die within 10 years as men of the same age who live with their wives.

"The critical factor seems to be the spouse," said a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who, incredibly enough, seems both surprised by these findings and female. She also noted that researchers were not sure why men without wives faced earlier death, but that preliminary analysis suggested they ate poorly.

Let me explain how you might do a study like this. Let's say you have a package of Stouffer's macaroni and cheese, a tomato and a loaf of French bread. Let's say that it is 7 o'clock. Pretend you are a researcher for the University of California and observe what the woman between the ages of 45 and 64 will do with these materials:

1) Preheats oven according to package directions. Puts package in the oven.

2) Slices tomato and sprinkles with oil, vinegar and ground pepper.

3) Slices bread and removes butter from the refrigerator.

In about an hour this woman will eat.

At the same time researchers can observe a man between the ages of 45 and 64 living alone using the same materials:

1) Reads package, peers at stove, rereads package, reads financial section of paper.

2) Looks at tomato, says aloud, "Where the hell's the knife?"

3) Places tomato on top of frozen package, leaves both on kitchen counter, watches "Monday Night Football" or a National Geographic documentary on the great horned owl while eating loaf of unsliced French bread.

This can be compared and contrasted with the man living with his wife. When wife goes out, the result is exactly the same as in example 2, except that when the wife returns and says, "Why didn't you eat dinner?" the husband between the ages of 45 and 64 will say, "I wasn't hungry," in exactly the same tone of voice he would use if he were to say, "I have bubonic plague."

(These results are occasionally skewed by observed occasions on which wife returns home and finds house full of smoke. Such incidents are particularly reliable indicators of longer life for men between the ages of 45 and 64, since they enhance the well-documented "I told you not to go out and leave me alone" effect, which promotes a generalized feeling of well-being and smugness.)

Every woman I know finds the California study notable only because the results seem so obvious. But I find it helpful to have anecdotal observations confirmed by scientific analysis, and besides, it gets me off the hook.

I am frequently accused of feminist bias for suggesting that the ability to do a simple household task without talking about it for two weeks is gender-based.

If I were to suggest that a man without a wife is a man overwhelmed by dustballs, pizza cartons and mortality, I would get an earful from the New Age men. The New Age men appear in many stories about lifestyle matters; there are five of them, and they are the guys who actually took those paternity leaves you've been hearing so much about. One of them makes a mean veal piccata, which is habitually featured in stories about men who cook.

If they're unhappy with this conclusion, they've got science to arm-wrestle with. E=mc2, some guy once said, perhaps while eating a loaf of French bread and wondering why his wife had to visit her sister.

And 1 man minus 1 wife = bad news, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco. Bears with furniture.

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