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Does Spousal Illness Increase the Likelihood of Divorce?
If you were sick, would it change how you looked at your marriage? A new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that serious illnesses among women are linked to an increased likelihood of divorce.
Without drawing a causal link between illness and divorce, the study – conducted by researchers at Iowa State University – found that divorce rates increase by six percent when wives suffer from cancer, heart disease, lung disease, or stroke later in life. However, when it is the husband who falls ill, the couple is no more likely to split than any other couple in which both spouses are healthy.
Wife’s Sickness, Not Husband’s, Linked to Divorce
So, why the increase when wives get sick?*
Again, the study’s authors were careful not to suggest that either spouse was more likely to leave because of the wife’s sickness. The data did not show causal factors, and the researchers only looked at the correlation – not the reasoning behind it.
However, the researchers did not hesitate in offering their theories on the stories behind the data. Their hypotheses placed both spouses behind the decision to file for divorce:
- The stresses of caregiving – One possible factor, according to the study’s authors, is that caregiving can have negative physical and psychological health impacts, and men tend to be less socialized toward caregiving than women. As a result, men may become unhappy as caregivers; or, their spouses may become dissatisfied with the nature and quality of care provided.
- Motivation to make a change – The data used for the study also suggested that women tend to be less satisfied with their marriages than men. This, the authors said, could explain why women are more likely to leave when they become seriously ill.
- The “marriage market” – Since women tend to live longer than men, there is a larger pool of potential partners for elderly men. The study’s authors suggested that the availability of companionship may be a factor that makes men more likely to leave their seriously-ill wives.
Interestingly, other research has found that among younger couples, the husband’s work-related health issues are more likely than the wife’s to lead to divorce.
*Note that the study’s authors retracted their scientific findings after being notified of a coding error in their data which caused participants who left the study to be identified as divorced. Nonetheless, the author’s theories about when and why spouses’ illnesses may lead to divorce provide interesting food for thought for married couples facing serious diseases later in life.
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