NEW YORK — A new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior says that losing a spouse, whether through divorce or death, can have serious effects on one’s overall health. The damage can last even if the person remarries, the research finds.
“We argue that losing a marriage through divorce or widowhood is extremely stressful and that a high-stress period takes a toll on health,” University of Chicago sociology professor Linda J. Waite said in a press statement on Monday. “Think of health as money in the bank. Think of a marriage as a mechanism for ‘saving’ or adding to health. Think of divorce as a period of very high expenditures.”
The study examined 8,652 Americans who had filled out a 1992 national health survey. All were at least 50 years old now. Fifty-five percent of them had been continually married, four percent had always been single, and the remaining 41% had gone through at least one instance of divorce or widowhood.
The results: divorced people are 20% more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, including cancer, than people who never get married. People who remarry are also more likely to have health problems, although the figure drops to 12% for them.
“Previously married people experience, on average, 20% more conditions and 23% more limitations,” Dr. Waite’s study reads.
However, the study does not examine the issue of how the quality of marriage affects health. Research in the past has suggested that unhappy marriages are linked to heart disease and other problems.
The stats remain consistent when applied to various age groups, races, genders, and levels of education. Dr. Waite and her colleague, Mary Elizabeth Hughes, link divorce and widowhood to decreases in household income and increases in stress.
“Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions,” Dr. Waite added. “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.”
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