(Un)healthy lifestylesEducation as a dividing line

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Partner and health-related behaviour

Authors: Stéfanie André, Roza Meuleman and Gerbert Kraaykamp

The partner is one of the most important people in terms of influencing a person’s lifestyle and risk habits (Monden et al. 2003; De Neve & Kawachi 2017). This is after all the person with whom someone eats and drinks, engages in physical activity and who is likely to show rejection or acceptance of smoking. It therefore also seems likely that someone’s health-related behaviour will be related to the educational level of their partner.

Here we look at the effects of living with a partner with a tertiary education versus a partner with a primary or secondary educational level. We opted for this twofold division in order to simplify the comparison.

Table 6.1 relates the respondent’s own educational level to whether or not they have a partner and, if so, to whether that partner has a higher professional/university education or a lower educational level. We find a clear association: people mainly choose a partner with a similar educational level. Furthermore, there is virtually no education gap in having or not having a partner.

Table 6.1Education of respondent and partner

respondent's educational level

Partners educational level


higher secondary

higher professional (HBO)

university (WO)


no partner





low/higher secondary





higher professional (HBO)/

university (WO)











Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Smoking and partner’s educational level

Figure 6.1 first shows that having a partner influences the chance of being a smoker. Respondents educated to low, intermediate and higher professional (hbo) level smoke more often if they do not have a partner; 45.3% of lower-educated respondents without a partner smoke, compared with 29.6% of lower-educated respondents with a low/intermediate-educated partner and 17.2% of those with a partner educated to tertiary level.

Where someone has a partner, the educational level of that partner also makes a difference: having a partner with a tertiary education leads to a relatively lower probability of smoking in all educational groups. This partner influence is particularly substantial among lower-educated respondents (17.2%) compared with those with a low-educated partner (29.6% smokers) or no partner (45.3%). This therefore indicates that having a highly educated partner offers more protection against smoking, thus promoting good health. Another explanation could of course be that highly educated people mainly select non-smoking partners.

Figure 6.1Smoking by educational level of respondent and partner

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
no partner 45,3 38,8 30,3 8,1
partner's education: low/intermediate 29,6 27,3 16,7 9,2
partner's education: higher professional (HBO)/university (WO) 17,2 17,9 12,6 11,8

aSmoking here includes smoking every day as well as smoking less regularly than every day. For more information on the variables, see Acknowledgements and sources.

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Alcohol consumption and partner’s educational level

What are the potential health-promoting partner effects in relation to drinking alcohol? Is this social activity influenced in a different way from smoking? In line with the findings on educational differences in alcohol consumption by respondents themselves in Health-related behaviour in the Netherlands, figure 6.2 shows that having a highly educated partner is often associated with regular alcohol consumption; 52.3% of university-educated respondents with a partner who also has a tertiary education drink regularly, whereas the figure is substantially lower (35.0%) among university graduates without a partner.

Figure 6.2Regular alcohol consumption by educational level of respondent and partner

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
no partner 32,7 36,8 42,4 35
partner's education: low/intermediate 31,9 40,9 42,2 42,8
partner's education: higher professional (HBO)/university (WO) 53,9 52,3 41,7 52,3

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Is the partner’s education also related to being overweight?

Being overweight is an important and growing problem in Dutch society. A high BMI is generally the result of of exercising too little, eating too much and consuming high-calorie foods. Meals are often shared with a partner. The question is therefore to what extent the partner also has an influence on a person’s BMI. It can be seen from figure 6.3 that having a partner is clearly related to being overweight. First, we see that the education gap is greatest among persons without a partner: an average BMI of 26.5 for those with the lowest educational level, compared with a BMI of 23.3 for university graduates. Living with a partner with a low or intermediate educational level appears to be associated for all respondents with a higher average BMI compared with not having a partner; this effect is also relevant for those with a low and higher secondary educational level.

Figure 6.3Average BMI by educational level of respondent and partner

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
no partner 26,5 25,1 24,5 23,3
partner's education: low/intermediate 27,1 26 25,9 26,1
partner's education: higher professional (HBO)/university (WO) 24,3 26 24,5 24,3

aThe dotted line represents the threshold for being overweight (BMI > 25)

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)


Lenthe, F.J. van & J.P. Mackenbach (2006). Neighbourhood and individual socioeconomic inequalities in smoking: the role of physical neighbourhood stressors. In: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 60, nr. 8, p. 699-705.

Monden, C.W., F. van Lenthe, N.D. de Graaf & G. Kraaykamp (2003). Partner’s and own education: does who you live with matter for self-assessed health, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption? In: Social Science & Medicine, vol. 57, no. 10, pp. 1901-1912.

Neve, J.W. de & I. Kawachi (2017). Spillovers between siblings and from offspring to parents are understudied. A review and future directions for research. In: Social Science & Medicine, vol. 183, pp. 56- 61.

Cite this card

André, S., R. Meuleman and G. Kraaykamp (2018). Partner and health-related behaviour. In: (Un)healthy lifestyles: Education as a dividing line. Retrieved [datum vandaag] from https://digital.scp.nl/lifestyles/partner-and-health-related-behaviour.

Information notes

Age effects are also relevant here.