Study Says Divorce and Widowhood Adversely Affect Health

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer 

A new study has found that the loss of a spouse to death or divorce has a lingering detrimental impact on a person’s health, even if they remarry. is reporting on research conducted at the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University which found that divorce and widowhood have an adverse impact on a person’s health.

“Among the currently married, those who have ever been divorced show worse health on all dimensions,” said University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite and co-author of the study. Further, “Both the divorced and widowed who do not remarry show worse health on all dimensions,” she said. 

The impacts of marriage, divorce and remarriage on health are based on the ways in which the various illnesses develop and heal, Dr. Waite said. “Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly 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 is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries.”

The study found that 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.  Further, 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.

The research was based on a study of 8,652 people aged 51 to 61 and will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in the article, “Marital Biography and Health Midlife.”

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