Marital status, gender and cardiovascular mortality: behavioural, psychological distress and metabolic explanations

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Jul;69(2):223-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.05.010. Epub 2009 Jun 6.


The intermediate processes through which the various unmarried states can increase the risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease mortality are incompletely understood. An understanding of these processes and how they may vary by gender is important for understanding why marital status is strongly and robustly associated with subsequent cardiovascular disease. In a prospective study of 13,889 Scottish men and women (mean age 52.3, Standard Deviation: 11.8 yrs, range 35-95, 56.1% female) without a history of clinically diagnosed cardiovascular disease, we examined the extent to which health behaviours (smoking, alcohol, physical activity), psychological distress (General Health Questionnaire-12 item) and metabolic dysregulation (obesity levels, and the presence of hypertension and diabetes) account for the association between marital status and cardiovascular mortality. There were 258 cardiovascular deaths over an average follow up of 7.1 (Standard Deviation=3.3) years. The risk of cardiovascular mortality was greatest in single, never married men and separated/divorced women compared with those that were married in gender stratified models that were adjusted for age and socio-economic group. In models that were separately adjusted, behavioural factors explained up to 33%, psychological distress explained up to 10% and metabolic dysregulation up to 16% of the relative change in the hazard ratios in the observed significant associations between marital status and cardiovascular mortality. Behavioural factors were particularly important in accounting for the relationship between being separated/divorced and cardiovascular mortality in both men and women (33% and 21% of the relative change in the hazard ratios, respectively). The findings suggest that health behaviour, psychological distress and metabolic dysregulation data have varying explanatory power for understanding the observed relationship between cardiovascular disease mortality and unmarried states.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Hypertension / psychology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological*