Study: Couples with similar drinking habits may live longer


The couple that drinks together might live longer together, too, says a University of Michigan researcher.

In a recent study published in The Gerontologist, Kira Birditt, research professor at the Institute for Social Research’s Survey Research Center, found that couples who are concordant in their drinking behavior — meaning both drink alcohol — tend to live longer.


She said a theory in alcohol literature called “the drinking partnership,” where couples who have similar patterns of alcohol use tend to have better marital outcomes, such as less conflict and longer marriages, was the inspiration behind the study.

Although a great deal of research has examined the implications of couples’ drinking patterns for marital outcomes, the implications for health are less clear. Behaviors that are good for marriage are not necessarily good for health, Birditt says.

“The purpose of this study was to look at alcohol use in couples in the Health and Retirement Study and the implications for mortality,” she said. “And we found, interestingly, that couples in which both indicated drinking alcohol in the last three months lived longer than the other couples that either both indicated not drinking or had discordant drinking patterns in which one drank and the other did not.”

While it may sound like that’s a recommendation to drink more with your spouse, Birditt cautions against that reading.

The study specifically looked at drinking patterns and defined “drinking” broadly, examining whether a participant had had a drink within the last three months. However, it may suggest the importance of remembering how spouses can impact each other’s health. Drinking concordance among couples may be a reflection of compatibility among partners in their lifestyles, intimacy and relationship satisfaction.

“We’ve also found in other studies that couples who drink together tend to have better relationship quality, and it might be because it increases intimacy,” Birditt said.

That impact might merit further study. Birditt would like to explore further questions related to couples’ alcohol consumption and how it affects their relationship.

“We don’t know why both partners drinking is associated with better survival. I think using the other techniques that we use in our studies in terms of the daily experiences and ecological momentary assessment questionnaires could really get at that to understand, for example, focusing on concordant drinking couples,” she said. “What are their daily lives like? Are they drinking together? What are they doing when they are drinking?

“There is also little information about the daily interpersonal processes that account for these links. Future research should assess the implications of couple drinking patterns for daily marital quality, and daily physical health outcomes.”

The Health and Retirement study is a nationally representative study of adults 50 and older in the United States. It includes couples who are interviewed every two years. Participants included 4,656 married or cohabiting different-sex couples (9,312 individuals) who completed at least three waves of the HRS from 1996 to 2016.



  1. Laura Hatch
    on April 1, 2024 at 8:36 am

    This study has so many unanswered questions I cannot believe you published it!
    This statement “Behaviors that are good for marriage are not necessarily good for health”
    seems contradictory to the findings that couples who drink together live longer.
    When is drinking good for health? How much do the couples that were studied drink?And of course , all of the questions you posed are unanswered and are so important.
    Publishing this without answering these questions sends out a very bad message. The ethics of publishing this here should be questioned, especially on a college campus where drinking can be very destructive you are giving an excuse to drink.

  2. Husnu Kaplan
    on April 1, 2024 at 11:04 am

    The headline of this research article could easily give the wrong impression, which is concerning and potentially harmful to readers. It sounds like the article is suggesting that couples should drink more alcohol together, but the researcher actually warns against this interpretation within the article itself. I share Laura Hatch’s opinion that there’s a lot we still don’t know. The study has many aspects that weren’t controlled, which really makes you question whether the results can be trusted. Given these issues, it probably wasn’t the best choice to put this article in the University Record or to email it to everyone at the University of Michigan.

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