Berman & Asbel, LLP

Research links divorce and serious illness in wives

Divorce is rarely a stress-free experience. The relationship of the spouses has already been choppy for some time before they decide to take dissolution action. If children are part of the equation, the turmoil is likely only to be worse.

But what about the physical health of the parties involved? It is widely held that the emotional strain of going through a divorce can be physically harmful, but some just-published social science research suggests that physical illness may also contribute to divorce decisions, though the findings indicate that it is a situation fraught with gender bias.

The specific conclusions by a University of Iowa scientist and a colleague are that if a wife becomes seriously ill, especially later in life, the chances that the marriage will end in divorce are 6 percent greater than usual. There is no corresponding increase in the odds of a divorce if the husband is the one who falls ill.

The results are drawn from a review of some 2,700 marriages from 1992 to 2010. All of the individuals in the study were 51 or older. The scientists examined the rates of divorce in those couples, crosschecking them against instances in which one or the other spouse suffered from diseases of the heart or lungs, cancer and stroke.

What might explain this gender disparity? Unfortunately, that wasn't one of the questions posed by the research. It might be easy to just chalk it up to men being jerks, but the research didn't ask which spouse initiated the divorce, either.

Still, the chief author is willing to speculate. She says it may be that men in the period of the study were never socialized in care giving skills and walked away from sick wives. Alternatively, she says it might be that women in the study who became ill were less satisfied with the care they received from spouses.

Regardless, the researcher says she believes her work serves to advance the discussion about the effects of illness on social dynamics of marriage relationships and families.

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