The News Story – Divorce wave to follow Obamacare rollout?

Critics of the Affordable Care Act have debated hotly for some time now, citing concerns over skyrocketing prices, affordability, and even constitutionality.  This week, amidst the unrolling of the government health insurance exchanges program, Janice Fioravante at Financial Planning asks a new question: Will the ACA actually encourage divorces?

Fioravante writes that if the health insurance exchanges do indeed make insurance more affordable, some separated couples may choose to finalize their divorces.  She cites financial planners who claim that “health insurance definitely comes up a lot” when working out the details of a divorce.  Couples even go so far as to legally separate but stay married so that one spouse can gain from the other’s insurance plan.

How wide is this phenomenon?  How much of an impact will the ACA have?  It’s difficult to say, but surely any measure that discourages a couple from relying on each other emotionally, spiritually, and financially also serves to encourage any tempting thoughts of divorce.  And divorce, researchers have long known, isn’t good for anyone’s health.

The New Research – The divorce lawyer and the mortician

A striking correlation between divorce and premature death has been noted in a number of studies.  That correlation is all the more impressive now that researchers at the University of Arizona have completed a comprehensive analysis integrating a raft of such studies.

The sheer scope of this new analysis (more precisely, a meta-analysis) of divorce and mortality rates is remarkable: the Arizona scholars bring together 32 prospective studies (involving more than 6.5 million people, 160,000 deaths, and over 755,000 divorces in 11 different countries).   The chief finding of this prodigious collation of data is crystal clear: the data reveal “a significant increase in risk for early death among separated/divorced adults in comparison to their married counterparts.”

Quantifying the elevation of risk, the researchers calculate that when divorced adults are compared to married peers, they face “a 23% increase in the probability of being dead from all causes at each future assessment.” Though the risk associated with divorce seemed particularly pronounced among younger men, that risk was remarkably widespread, appearing in country after country, study after study.  So robust was this linkage between divorce and early death that the researchers conclude that “the number of control variables . . . was unassociated with mortality risk.”

The researchers acknowledge that “selection effects” may account for at least part of the linkage between divorce and premature death.  Health problems may themselves help cause divorce—and then death.  Still, the researchers can find “no evidence that selection processes can explain the entirety of the divorce/mortality association.”  In other words, it appears quite possible that divorce itself is, at least to some degree, a “causal influence on increased risk for early mortality.”

Highlighting the ways that divorce may help cause early death, the researchers note that “as a psychological and interpersonal stressor, divorce has the potential to disrupt biological processes that are important to health and well-being and, in doing so, can increase risk for health problems.”  This point is clarified by evidence that “marital separation and divorce are associated with a wide range of negative health behaviors.”  Compared to married peers, the divorced are much more likely to experience “severe insomnia and problems of sleep maintenance.”  The divorced are also more likely to use alcohol and tobacco than are their married peers, but they are less likely to maintain healthy habits such as eating breakfast and exercising regularly.

The overall finding of this study is unmistakable: “on average, divorced adults are at increased risk for early mortality relative to their married counterparts.”  That simple finding sums up the tragedy of tens of thousands of lives cut short prematurely since the Divorce Revolution began some 40 years ago.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America, Winter 2013, Vol. 27 Number 1. Study: David A. Sbarra, Rita W. Law, and Robert M. Portley, “Divorce and Death: A Meta-Analysis and Research Agenda for Clinical, Social, and Health Psychology,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6.5 [September 2011]:  454-474.)

This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....