Divorce Linked to Chronic Illness, Study Finds

The toll of divorce on a spouse’s health may be more than emotional, a new study has concluded. According to the study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, persons who were divorced reported more chronic health problems than those who remained married or were never married. Data for the national study were gathered from nearly 9,000 men and women in their 50s and early 60s.

While this does not mean that people should stay married at all costs, it does show that marital history is an important indicator of health, and that the newly single need to be especially vigilant about stress management and exercise, even if they remarry.

The health benefits of marriage, documented by a wealth of research, appear to stem from several factors. Married people tend to be better off financially and can share in a spouse’s employer health benefits. And wives, in particular, act as gatekeepers for a husband’s health, scheduling appointments and noticing changes that may signal a health problem. Spouses can offer logistical support, like taking care of children while a partner exercises or shuttling a partner to and from the doctor’s office.

Over all, men and women who had experienced divorce or the death of a spouse reported about 20 percent more chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, compared with those who had been continuously married. Previously married people were also more likely to have mobility problems, like difficulty climbing stairs or walking a meaningful distance.

While remarrying led to some improvement in health, the study showed that most married people who became single never fully recovered from the physical declines associated with marital loss. Compared with those who had been continuously married, people in second marriages had 12 percent more chronic health problems and 19 percent more mobility problems. A second marriage did appear to heal emotional wounds: remarried people had only slightly more depressive symptoms than those continuously married.

Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times 08/03/2009
Read Article: The New York Times