Study examines effects of illness on a marriage

Posted by Lauren S. CohenJan 22, 20190 Comments

When women in New York develop cancer, heart disease or other serious health conditions, their divorce risk goes up. According to a 2015 study that appeared in “The Journal of Health and Social Behavior,” the same divorce risk is not shared by men who suffer from health problems.

Other research supports these findings. Researchers from Purdue University and Iowa State University examined 2,701 marriages and how they were affected by cancer, stroke, lung disease and heart disease. The study found that heart disease or a stroke raised the likelihood of divorce even more than lung disease or cancer for women, but for men, there was no effect.

In general, men get health benefits from marriage that women do not. According to one sociologist, this could be because women often provide more caregiving in a marriage than men do. This leaves men more likely to leave if their wives become too sick to continue providing that support. Women also tend to have more extensive support systems in place while men may only have their wives to rely on in times of illness.

However, these studies were largely done on older couples. It is possible that they may have adhered to more traditional gender roles and that the pattern will change in younger couples where this is not the case. Same-sex couples tend to offer support more equally during illness.

Divorce negotiations may be affected by a couple's particular set of circumstances, and this could include a serious illness. For a person in this position, maintaining health insurance could be a priority. Depending on the length of the marriage, the nature of the divorce settlement and other factors, the other spouse might be required to pay support if the person is unable to work. The child custody arrangement might also be affected since a seriously ill parent may be unable to care for children.