Divorce May Not Be So Unhealthy After All


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Ending a long-term relationship may not be as harmful to your well-being as once thought. According to a large new study, middle-aged men and women who said goodbye to their spouses are just as healthy as those middle-aged adults who are still living in holy matrimony.

Researchers from the London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine gathered data from more than 10,000 people born in the same week in 1958. They chronicled their relationship status at ages 23, 33, 42, and 46, and then trained nurses gave the participants a physical examination when they were between ages 44 and 46. 

And the study authors had a few key takeaways:

  • The volunteers who had signed divorce papers and then married someone else were no more likely to suffer from cardiovascular or respiratory issues compared with adults who remained with their original partners.

  • Couples who walked down the aisle in their 20s and early 30s and were still together in their 40s had “almost identical standards of health” compared with those who were living with someone but never made it legal.

  • The men and women who were unmarried and without a partner were most at risk for health issues, being more likely to be diagnosed with either cardiovascular disease or respiratory issues.

“Numerous studies have found that married people have better health than unmarried people,” said the two study authors in a formal statement. “Previous research has also shown that men experience an initial decline after divorce, but we found that in the long term, they tend to revert back to their pre-divorce health status. Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.”

Hui “Cindy” Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University, had conducted previous research about divorce and health, and found that divorce at a younger age (between 34 and 41) can have a negative impact on health compared with those who ended their marriages between the ages of 44 and 50.

Related: Is It Normal to Contemplate Divorce When You’re Married? 

“This is not the first study that showed people may recover from divorce in a few years following divorce,” she tells Yahoo Health. “Their health may return to the original levels before divorce. However, the evidence is mixed depending on different health outcomes examined.”

She explains that cultural differences may play a role. “This particular study is based on a very specific sample: the 1958 British Birth Cohort. The social context, meanings, and processes of divorce — and also cohabitation — may be different from current American society.” 

Another important factor to note it that this study looked at the effects of divorce on the well-being of divorced adults, but did not consider that of their children. Most studies show that children can suffer when their parents divorce, but a recent study demonstrated that it’s the level of angry fighting, and not the divorce itself, that appears to cause the most damage

And while the London researchers did not indicate the common reasons for divorce in their study, we can’t help but wonder if any of these weird causes were to blame.

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