More evidence has come to light of the damage divorce does to family members. A study of 8652 people aged 51 to 61 shows that those who have been divorced, as well as those widowed, have worse health than those who have been continuously married or who have never married. Their health improves somewhat with remarriage but still suffers long term effects.
The research, by University of Chicago Sociologist Linda Waite and Johns Hopkins public health professor Mary Elizabeth Hughes, is the first to examine both marital transitions and marital status on a wide range of health dimensions, including chronic disease (heart, diabetes, cancer), depression and mobility.
Based on genetics and other factors, people enter adulthood with a particular “stock” of health, other research has shown. “Each person’s experience of marital gain and loss affect this stock of health,” Waite said. “For example, the transition to marriage tends to bring an immediate health benefit, in that it improves health behaviours for men and financial well-being for women.”
These advantages are enhanced throughout marriage. Divorce or widowhood undermines health because incomes drop, and stress develops over issues such as shared child care.
The impacts of marriage, divorce and remarriage on health are based on the ways in which the various illnesses develop and heal, Waite said.
“Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions,” she said. “In contrast, conditions such as diabetes and heart disease develop slowly over a substantial period and show the impact of past experiences, which is why health is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries.”