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Couple married for 76 years celebrates 100th birthday together

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(Read caption) A creation by Leticia Dominguez Marquez during Sevilla de Boda (Seville Wedding) fashion show in the Andalusian capital of Seville November 2015.

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A Tennessee couple defied all odds this year, celebrating not only 76 years together, but also 100 years of being alive.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever sung happy birthday for someone 100 years old,” said a guest to WKRN-TV at a surprise birthday party for the couple.

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Margaret and Allan Little, from Bellevue, each turned 100 this year. They met at church when they were 4, in 1919. They had their first date as teens, and were married in 1938.

“How long have we been married, 74 years?” Allan asked Margaret in the WKRN news program.

“Something like that,” she responded dryly.

Their secret to a long life together, as everyone naturally wants to know, has been to "Live a decent life, behave yourself and be thankful," Margaret told TODAY.com.

But research shows that the couple's longevity may also be partly attributed to their marriage.  Coupled people look out for each other, so they tend to be healthier, physically and emotionally.

As Allan said about his long marriage to TODAY, "I tried my best to take care of Margaret and myself.”

This pays off, studies show, especially for men, who are less likely to die early or to die from a variety of conditions if they’re married, according to Harvard Medical School.

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Japanese scientists found that never-married men were three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than married ones, according to Harvard. And scientists from the Framingham Offspring Study who evaluated 3,682 adults over a 10-year period found that married men had a 46 percent lower rate of death than unmarried men.

In the era when the Littles wed, however, marriage was viewed rather differently than it is today.

Today, fewer people are getting married, particularly those without college degrees, as marriage has become more of a love commitment than a financial necessity.

“It’s just love now,” Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist told The New York Times. “We marry to find our soul mate, rather than a good homemaker or a good earner.”

Of those who do marry, fewer have been getting divorced in the last couple of decades – partly because of lower marriage rates in the first place – reversing a trend that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the Times, about 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary, up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. People who married in the 2000s seem to be divorcing at even lower rates.

If current trends continue, the Times reports, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve divorce.