Study Reveals the Effects of Divorce on Health

Research now shows that the old saying, "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," may not be true. Divorce creates long periods of stressful conditions that affect mental and physical health. The damage may be worse than never marrying, especially for people who are divorced more than once. A study published in the 2009 September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior reveals the effects of divorce on health.

How the study was conducted

Sociologist Linda Waite from the University of Chicago and co-author Mary Elizabeth Hughes of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health studied four aspects of midlife health: chronic conditions, self-rated health, limited mobility issues and depression symptoms.

Data was drawn and analyzed from a health and retirement study based on information from 8,652 people ages 51 to 61 of white, black and Hispanic origins. The study is considered valuable because of the large sample size and the detailed health history and marital data provided by study participants. However, Waite does concede that the study's most serious limitation is that marital quality was not factored into the research.

Basic study findings

Waite and Hughes' study revealed the following statistics: "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."

The statistics uncovered by Waite and Hughes clearly showed that the health condition of never-married individuals was better than individuals who were currently married but who had been previously divorced or who had lost a spouse through death.

In the remarried group, the study revealed that 12 percent suffered from chronic conditions and 19 percent had limited mobility issues. Also of note is that the remarried group did not reveal any increase in depression symptoms when compared to individuals who remained continuously married.

Although the research didn't reveal a difference in the total number of chronic conditions, it did reveal higher numbers than those of married individuals when comparing health conditions like depression, limited mobility and self-rated health.

Waite summarized her findings by saying that the way various illnesses develop and heal is what impacts the health of individuals experiencing marriage, divorce and remarriage. While a health problem like depression may respond positively when a current situation improves, other health issues, such as diabetes or heart disease that take longer to develop, continue to be influenced by past experiences. This is why an individual's health can be undermined by divorce even after remarriage.

This study reveals the effects of divorce on health and sheds new light on the importance of quality of life. Because other studies have also shown that a happy marriage offers immediate health benefits to men and improved financial security for women, it's now becoming clear that a stable quality of life produces overall and long-lasting health benefits.

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