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Divorcing at a young age negatively impacts health, study finds

Heather Rudow January 31, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/ orionpozo)

The rising divorce rate in America may be a cause for concern — estimates indicate that anywhere from 50 to 60 percent of all marriages will eventually end in divorce — but a Michigan State University study found that those who should be most worried are younger divorcing couples. The results revealed that divorcing earlier in life is more detrimental to a person’s health.

The findings suggest that older couples have better developed the coping skills necessary to handle the emotional stress of a divorce.

“It’s clear to me that we need more social and family support for the younger divorced groups,” said researcher Hui Liu. “This could include divorce counseling to help people handle the stress or offering marital therapy or prevention programs to maintain marital satisfaction.”

The study consisted of 1,282 participants, who reported their own health for a long-term survey called Americans’ Changing Lives. Liu “measured the gap in health status between those who remained married during the 15-year study period and those who transitioned from marriage to divorce, at certain ages and among different birth cohorts, or generations.”

The data revealed that the gap was wider at younger ages:

“For example, among people born in the 1950s, those who got divorced between the ages of 35 and 41 reported more health problems in relation to their continuously married counterparts than those who got divorced in the 44 to 50 age range. From a generational perspective, the negative health impact was stronger for baby boomers than it was for older generations — a finding that surprised Liu. … Liu said this may be because the pressure to marry and stay married was stronger for older generations, and so those who did divorce may have been among the most unhappily married — and thus felt a certain degree of relief when they did divorce. Overall, the study found that those who transition from marriage to divorce experience a more rapid health decline than those who remain married. However, those who remained divorced during the entire study period showed no difference than those who remained married.”

Lui said of the findings, “I would have expected divorce to carry less stress for the younger generation, since divorce is more prevalent for them.”

She concludes, “This suggests it is not the status of being married or divorced, per se, that affects health but instead is the process of transitioning from marriage to divorce that is stressful and hurts health.”

Source: Michigan State University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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