Monday, July 27, 2009

Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage and Your Health

Newswise recently reported yet another interesting study. Bottom line is that divorce and widowhood have a lasting, detrimental impact on health, even after one ties the knot again. The study found that married people that were previously divorced show worse health on all dimensions, over those married and never divorced. And worse still, those divorced or widowed who don’t remarry are even worse off. University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite co-authored the study with Mary Elizabeth Hughes, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The subjects were 8,652 people aged 51 to 61. This is the first study to examine both marital transitions and marital status on a wide range of health dimensions, according to Newswise.

Previous research has shown that the transition to marriage tends to immediately improve the health benefit ‘stock’ for both men and women – men because they start to live and eat healthier, women because their financial well-being generally improves. This continues to be the case throughout marriage for most couples. But divorce or widowhood undermines these benefits and a drop in our ‘health stock’ is experienced after either occurs. The authors cite drop in income and increased stress over a number of issues including shared child care as reasons.

Other findings include:

• Divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer than married people. They also have 23 percent more mobility limitations, such as trouble climbing stairs or walking a block.

• People who never married have 12 percent more mobility limitations and 13 percent more depressive symptoms, but report no difference in the number of chronic health conditions from married people.

• People who remarried have 12 percent more chronic conditions and 19 percent more mobility limitations, but no more depressive symptoms, than those who are continuously married.

Here’s how the authors explain the findings? Prof. Waite says the impacts of marriage, divorce and remarriage on health are based on the ways in which the various illnesses develop and heal. She says, with my comments in brackets, “Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly [negatively after divorce or widowhood; positively after remarriage] to changes in current conditions. 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 [as compared to mood] is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries.”

Okay, that explains it, but here’s what I think is really more important, all else being equal of course:

1. Marriage on its own is good for you – health stock improves both after one’s initial marriage or any subsequent marriages.
2. Divorce is generally bad for you – health stock stays impaired even after remarriage.
3. Divorce has a bigger negative impact on your health than marriage has a positive one.
4. Remarriage does not eliminate all the negative impact.

Thank you professors Waite and Hughes, but wait a minute – haven’t I read that somewhere else before this study was ever thought of? I’m sure I did. Seems to me my pastors have been teaching these lessons from the Good Book for years. Oh well, some people will never believe something unless a PhD. gets to say it. And sometimes, not even then.

Anyway, that’s how this Presentologist sees it. In the meantime, keep on ortho-thinking, and don’t forget to follow me on www.twitter.com/pappou .

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