In Sickness and in Health? Physical Illness as a Risk Factor for Marital Dissolution at Older Ages

Amelia Karraker, University of Michigan
Kenzie Latham, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

A large literature documents the consequences of marital status for health across the life course, but little work has examined the impact of health on marital status. In this study we use data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the role of chronic disease onset (i.e., cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and/or stroke) in subsequent divorce/separation, widowhood, and mortality among Americans aged 51 to 61 at baseline and their partners. We use a series of discrete-time event history models with multiple competing events to estimate the role of chronic illness onset of respondent and spouse on subsequent divorce/separation, widowhood, and death. We find that spousal illness onset is associated with subsequent divorce, but only for men. Subsequent analysis will examine the role of strains associated with caregiving by husbands as non-gender-normative behavior and financial strains as explanatory mechanisms in the elevated risk of divorce following wives’ illness.

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Presented in Session 18: Marriage, Marital Dissolution, and Health