July 28, 2009

Remarriage Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

Divorce and widowhood are bad for your health, even after you remarry. The impact of chronic illness lingers after remarriage, research at the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University shows. Even though not all wounds heal, however, you are still better off if you remarry than if you don't.

"Among the currently married, those who have ever been divorced show worse health on all dimensions," University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, co-author of a new study on marriage and health, is quoted as saying. "Both the divorced and widowed who do not remarry show [even further reduced] health on all dimensions." Waite, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology and Director of the Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center at the University, conducted the study with Mary Elizabeth Hughes, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although a number of studies have explored the connection between health and marriage, theirs is the first to examine both marital transitions and marital status on a wide range of health dimensions. Based on genetics and other factors, people enter adulthood with a particular "stock" of health. "Each person's experience of marital gain and loss affects this stock of health," Waite said. "For example, the transition to marriage tends to bring an immediate health benefit, in that it improves health behaviors for men and financial well-being for women."

Divorce or widowhood undermines health as stress develops over issues such as reduced income and shared child care.

The impacts of marriage, divorce and remarriage on health are based on the ways in which various illnesses develop and heal, Waite said.

"Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions," she said. "In contrast, conditions such as diabetes and heart disease develop slowly over a substantial period and show the impact of past experiences, which is why health is undermined by divorce or widowhood, even when a person remarries."


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