Marital biography and health at mid-life

J Health Soc Behav. 2009 Sep;50(3):344-58. doi: 10.1177/002214650905000307.

Abstract

This article develops a series of hypotheses about the long-term effects of one's history of marriage, divorce, and widowhood on health, and it tests those hypotheses using data from the Health and Retirement Study. We examine four dimensions of health at mid-life: chronic conditions, mobility limitations, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms. We find that the experience of marital disruption damages health, with the effects still evident years later; among the currently married, those who have ever been divorced show worse health on all dimensions. Both the divorced and widowed who do not remarry show worse health than the currently married on all dimensions. Dimensions of health that seem to develop slowly, such as chronic conditions and mobility limitations, show strong effects of past marital disruption, whereas others, such as depressive symptoms, seem more sensitive to current marital status. Those who spent more years divorced or widowed show more chronic conditions and mobility limitations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Middle Aged
  • United States