People who get divorced are more likely to suffer health problems including heart disease and cancer, even if they go on to remarry, a study has shown.
Divorce and widowhood have a long-term negative effect on physical wellbeing that is only marginally ameliorated if the person finds a new partner.
The stress and financial uncertainty of separation can continue to take their toll on our bodies decades after the Decree Absolute comes through, the research indicates.
Divorced people have 20 per cent more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer than married people, according to the study of 8,652 people aged between 51 and 61 by Professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago.
They also have 23 per cent more mobility problems, such as difficulty climbing stairs or walking short distances.
But while the health benefits of marriage – which are believed to stem from financial security and the positive impact of wives on their husbands’ diets and lifestyles – are well known, the new study shows that they are significantly reduced the second and third times around.
People who divorce and then remarry still have 12 per cent more chronic problems and 19 per cent more mobility problems than those who have been continuously married, the analysis showed.
“Among the currently married, those who have ever been divorced show worse health on all dimensions. Both the divorced and widowed who do not remarry show worse health on all dimensions,” said Prof Waite, a sociologist.
The research, which was carried out with Mary Elizabeth Hughes of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, also reaffirmed the results of recent studies showing the relative ill health of people who remain unmarried into late middle age.
People who never married have 12 per cent more mobility limitations and 13 per cent more depressive symptoms than their married counterparts, although they are no more likely to suffer from heart disease or cancer.
“Some health situations, like depression, seem to respond both quickly and strongly to changes in current conditions,” Prof Waite 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.”
Her article Marital Biography and Health Midlife will be published in the September issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Recent studies have suggested that marriage improves people’s quality of life in many ways. Singletons are more likely to drink to excess and die of smoking-related illnesses, and tend to work longer hours and miss meals because they have no partner to make time for.