A widely cited study claiming that divorce is more likely in couples over 50 when the wife gets sick has been retracted. A major coding error led researchers to count participants who left the study among the couples who divorced, which heavily skewed the data and produced inaccurate findings.
Published in March of this year in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the original study suggested that women over 50 who suffered from cancer, stroke, lung disease, or heart disease were at a higher risk of divorce than their healthy counterparts. However, the researchers behind the study have since corrected their coding error and now claim that divorce risk is only increased if the wife develops heart disease specifically. The authors plan to release an updated version of their findings in the September 2015 issue of JHSB.
The retraction was issued after lead author Amelia Karraker received an email from colleagues who were testing a similar hypothesis. I-Fen Lin and Susan Brown from Bowling Green State were attempting to replicate Karraker’s results but were unable to account for her high estimate of divorce among couples contending with the wife’s illness. Karraker made her data available to Lin and Brown, who discovered a vital error in the original analysis.
In her retraction, Karraker explained: “I sent them the statistical analysis file, which documents all of the steps as to how we came to all the estimates in the paper. And they pointed out to us, to our horror, that we had miscoded the dependent variable…As soon as we realized we made the mistake, we contacted the editor and told him what was happening, and said we made a mistake, we accept responsibility for it.”
It is comforting to learn that most wives who fall ill as they age are not, in fact, at a greater risk of being divorced than if they were healthy. However, the sad fact remains that wives who develop heart problems in old age do have a heightened risk of divorce.