Monday, August 17, 2009

Divorce is Bad for Your Health: Who Knew?

A new study finds that people who divorce, or who are widowed, are adversely affected health-wise, even if they re-marry.

"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. Their research, which was based on a study of 8,652 people aged 51 to 61, will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in the article, "Marital Biography and Health Midlife."

The findings are consistent with previous studies, said Dr. Mark Hayward, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas and an expert in the field of health and marriage, in an interview with (LSN). In his own work, he said, for example, "We actually found a very, very similar pattern to the findings that were in this study.""

. . . .

The study found that divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, than married people. They also have 23 percent more mobility limitations, such as trouble climbing stairs or walking a block. Further, people who remarried have 12 percent more chronic conditions and 19 percent more mobility limitations, but no more depressive symptoms, than those who are continuously married.

It should come as no surprise that something as unnatural as divorce should cause health problems, especially given the reality that the body and the soul are so intertwined that what happens to the person as a whole affects the person as a whole.

But what I found interesting was the knee-jerk reaction from the University of Texas sociologist who commented on the study. He argued that this is no reason to try to discourage people from getting divorced because "the health benefits of marriage may decline due to people staying in "bad" marriages." Now, I call this a knee-jerk liberal reaction for two reasons.

First, it is based entirely on speculation. The study didn't address that question and he did not cite any studies that did.

Second, the definition of a "bad" marriage is irresponsibly vague; it could mean anything from "He never picked up his stinky socks" to "He threatened me at gunpoint while the children watched." In any discussion of divorce a basic prerequisite for getting anywhere is to distinguishing between the reasons for divorce, which range from trivial reasons, "We just grew apart," to sinful reasons, "I got bored and wanted different lovers," to heart-breakingly lesser-of-two-evils reasons, "the alcoholism was out of control and the children were going to school with bruises and black eyes." To just have one big category called "bad" marriages is not helpful.

All too often, the rationalizing of currently ridiculously high divorce rates starts with extreme cases that constitute maybe 1% of the total number of divorces and quickly justifies all divorce on the basis that some are "necessary." The proper adjective to describe this procedure is perhaps "stupid" or maybe "devious." But it is definitely not "reasonable;" nor is it "healthy."

No comments: