Marriage is good for the heart—literally. Based on a new study out of Emory and Rutgers Universities, researchers find that married individuals are about twice as likely to survive within five years of having heart surgery as compared to unmarried individuals.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Much of the long-term difference could be explained by unmarried patients’ being more likely to smoke (a behavior spouses can influence, naturally), but not the short-term gap. During that period, the researchers cited social, emotional, and even “cognitive” support —smart decisionmaking — as possible explanations for the conjugal benefits.

Over the years, research has told a similar story of the health benefits of marriage. For example, married adults are less likely to abuse alcohol, more likely to report overall good health, and have lower mortality risk. (Children raised in married-parent families also experience health benefits.)

However, as WSJ adds:

[A]cross society, marriage rates have been decreasing. Baby boomers, for instance, “have lower rates of marriage than any of the previous twentieth-century cohorts.” As a result, they “enter the period of greatest risk for heart disease without the level of protection from marriage enjoyed by current cohorts of older persons.”

As marriage rates decline, fewer U.S. adults and children will reap the health benefits associated with this institution. Unfortunately, marriage is faltering most in low-income communities as well as in blue-collar America. This means that those Americans already experiencing the greatest financial challenges are also retreating from the institution that provides valuable benefits.

In an earlier Wall Street Journal piece, Professor Brad Wilcox observed that the breakdown of marriage in lower-income white America, as opposed to the relative stability among the upper-income, is fueling inequality by creating “a growing marriage divide…through the heart of white America.” The Emory and Rutgers study shows a divide when it comes to marriage and the heart. (The breakdown of marriage is also problematic among other racial groups, particularly among African-Americans and Hispanics.)

Lower cardiovascular health is just one facet of the increased risk society faces as marriage recedes. Marriage is a “wealth-creating institution” and is connected to higher income levels and greater household savings. It is also the greatest protector against childhood poverty. Marriage decline means that society will be made to shoulder more costs, health care among them.

Policies that bolster marriage are thus vital—not only to the well-being of adults and children but to a healthy and thriving society.