The effects of divorce and separation on mental health in a national UK birth cohort

Psychol Med. 1997 Sep;27(5):1121-8. doi: 10.1017/s003329179700559x.


Background: Many studies have reported a negative impact of divorce and separation on health although it is still unclear to what extent this is due to early vulnerability, the material and social consequences of divorce or to its direct emotional effects.

Method: Measures of anxiety and depression and potential alcohol abuse at age 43 were compared in 2085 participants from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development who were either married and never divorced or separated, or who had divorced or separated at least once. Analyses were adjusted for sociodemographic features, early vulnerability factors and current stressors.

Results: Divorce and separation were associated with increased anxiety and depression, and increased risk of alcohol abuse. This was the case after adjusting for educational attainment, age at first marriage, parental divorce, childhood aggression and neuroticism, and current financial hardship, lack of a confidante and frequency of social contact with friends or family. The association between divorce and risk of alcohol abuse became non-significant when the latter variable was controlled for. Associations between divorce and psychopathology were observed even though half of those separated or divorced were re-married or reunited with their spouses at the time of the analysis. There was, furthermore, no association between these mental health measures and time since first separation or divorce.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Divorce / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Personality
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology