- Divorced and widowed people have more health problems than their married peers.
- Remarrying reverses some of the impact.
- People who never marry are healthier than people who are widowed or divorced, but less healthy than married people.
Losing a spouse to divorce or death is bad for your health, according to new research. A study of 8,652 people ages 51 to 61 found that those who were divorced or widowed—and had not remarried—had 20 percent more chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, and 23 percent more mobility problems—such as trouble climbing stairs—than their married counterparts. Those who had been divorced or widowed the longest fared the worst in terms of chronic disease and mobility.
Losing a marriage “hammers you,” and the effects persist for years, says study coauthor Linda Waite, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. Remarrying mitigates some of the damage, especially related to emotional health, Waite says.
Sheila G. Jowsey, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., offers possible explanations for the findings:
- Having another person at home helps one prevent and respond to accidents.
- People who get divorced may have a higher incidence of unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol.
- Those who are divorced or widowed may have chronic depression, which is linked to higher rates of heart disease.
The study showed that people who had never married were less healthy than their married peers but healthier than the divorced and widowed group.
The researchers did not consider the quality of the marriage.
The study will appear in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
John Briley writes about health, exercise and travel.