London-based researchers have found that people who divorce and remarry are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age.
Researchers examined the association between trajectories of partnership status and objectively measured health indicators in midlife, using data from four waves (1981, 1991, 2000, and 2002–2004) of the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), a prospective cohort study that includes all people born in Britain during one week in March 1958. The researchers analyzed data on more than 10,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales.
They concluded that partnership status over the life course has a cumulative effect on a wide range of objectively measured health indicators in midlife.
After controlling for selection attributable to early-life and early-adulthood characteristics, they found that life-course trajectories of partnership status were associated with “hemostatic and inflammatory markers, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome and respiratory function in midlife.” Never marrying or cohabiting was negatively associated with health in midlife for both genders, but the effect was more pronounced in men. Women who had married in their late 20s or early 30s and remained married had the best health in midlife. Men and women in cohabiting unions had midlife health outcomes similar to those in formal marriages.
The study examines the health outcomes of people who are divorced as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the research has implications for younger generations because more people pursue unconventional relationships and divorce continues to be an option. “Our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” says lead author Dr. George Ploubidis, a Population Health Scientist at the University College of London Institute of Education.
In a summary, Dr. Ploubidis says middle-aged men and women who have experienced the upheaval of separation, divorce and remarriage are almost as healthy as couples in stable marriages.
Researchers from the, London School of Economics and Political Science, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine point out that individuals who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age.
Dr Ploubidis and his colleagues, including Professor Emily Grundy from LSE’s Department of Social Policy, expressed surprise to find that some men even experienced health benefits, in the long term, despite going through divorce. “Numerous studies have found that married people have better health than unmarried people. However, our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” Dr Ploubidis reveals. “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.”
The study is thought to be the first to investigate the links between life-course partnership status and health in middle age in a large sample of the population that had undergone medical examinations.
Researchers examined the relationship status of National Child Development Study members at ages 23, 33, 42 and 46. From 2002 to 2004, when study members were aged 44 to 46, specially trained nurses visited their homes to carry out comprehensive health checks, and took into account early life characteristics that are associated with partnership status and adult health.
Researchers found that couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health. However, unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health. They also discovered that men and women who had never married or lived with a partner had the worst health in middle age, with higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
“For those people who experience separation and divorce, it appears that as long as they begin another relationship, their health does not suffer in the long term,” Dr Ploubidis explains. “Previous research shows that there are several possible factors to explain the link between partnership status and health. A partner can positively influence your health behavior, by encouraging you to exercise more, as well as provide important support in tough times. A couple’s income also appears to play an important role in affecting health.”