The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2016

Friday, January 29, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 3)

The Topic: Grave Dangers of the Gray Divorce

The News Story: Art of Aging: Gray Divorce

The New Research: Unmarried Baby-Boomer Women—the Health Issues


The News Story: Art of Aging: Gray Divorce

“Divorce is never easy for any couple,” begins an ABC local affiliate’s story, “but it becomes more complicated among older adults who have been together for decades.”

The story reports that a record number of Americans are choosing to end their marriages later in life. Such a move—largely led by women—“can be particularly tricky,” says divorce and family attorney Mark Guralnick. Couples who have been together for 30-40 years may already have a shared will, and spousal support becomes more complicated when the spouse who would normally do the supporting is relying on social security or a meager pension.

Divorcee Mary Ann Merlino Oleksa of Marlton, New Jersey, believes the complications were worth the effort. “More people at my age, at this time of life are starting to realize that you don’t have to put up with a lot of stuff that women did years ago. You can be your own person.”

But research indicates that “being your own person” may come at a higher cost than many women realize.

(Source: Tamala Edwards, “Art of Aging: Gray Divorce,” 6 ABC Action News, January 28, 2016.)

 

The New Research: Unmarried Baby-Boomer Women—the Health Issues

Fully aware of the national retreat from marriage in recent decades, the authors of a new study set out to determine whether new marital patterns had changed the relationship between wedlock and health. To answer this question, the researchers pore over data collected from 4,574 women born between 1933 and 1942 and from 2,098 women born between 1947 and 1957. With these data, the researchers gauge the relationship between these women’s marital status and their vulnerability to chronic diseases and functional limitations. Their findings are hardly reassuring.

The overall pattern that the researchers limn in the data is quite clear: “being currently married was associated with fewer functional limitations and risk of several chronic diseases compared to being divorced/separated, widowed, and never married.” What is more, the pattern emerges in both of the generational samples: “In both cohorts,” the researchers remark, “marriage was associated with lower disease risk and fewer functional limitations.”

The researchers find that “all types of non-married status were significantly associated with higher levels of functional limitations compared to the married women.” Similarly, the researchers found that marital status predicted the likelihood of the chronic diseases of hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, and arthritis. For instance, the researchers find that, “compared to married women, those who were divorced or separated were 31% more likely to have Hypertension (p < .01) . . . and those who were never married were 80% more likely to have Hypertension (p < .001).” Among the unmarried women in the study, the divorced/separated group manifested a more consistent vulnerability to chronic diseases than did the never-married group. 

Understandably, the authors of this new study suggest that the relationship between marriage and marital status is a matter that their colleagues will want “to track in later members of the Baby Boom cohort, when higher rates of divorce and remaining single are even more common.”

Marriage has never counted for much among the progressives who have so decisively shaped American culture, but this new study gives those who truly care about women’s well-being reason to hope for a national reversal of the troubling retreat from wedlock. 

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, Forthcoming in “New Research,” The Family in America Vol. 30 Number 1. Study: Nicky J. Newton et al., “Cohort Differences in the Marriage-Health Relationship for Midlife Women,” Social Science and Medicine 116 [2014]: 64-72.)