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 

Friday, May 21, 2015 (Volume 4: Issue: 17)

The Topic: Easy Divorce, Earlier Death?

The News Story: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do in Arkansas; Why Divorce Laws Are Getting Stricter

The New Research: The Divorce Lawyer and the Mortician

 

The News Story: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do in Arkansas; Why Divorce Laws Are Getting Stricter

While it may seem like divorce is easier than ever to obtain, the reverse is actually true, according to Newsweek. Thanks to the efforts of conservative politicians like Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry, many states have instituted policies that require long mandatory “cool-down” periods and time-consuming parenting classes.

And this trend, Newsweek believes, is unhealthy, because “Instead of trying to make a highly charged scenario easier to navigate, such legislation does the opposite. . . . it just forces two unhappy people to stay together longer.” As an alternative to such legislation, the story proposes the example of California’s new pilot program, “One Day Divorce.” In contrast to the tight-lipped, pale-faced couples in traditional divorce proceedings, “the litigants in One Day Divorce are universally smiling and overflowing with joy to the point of high-fiving and hugging their volunteer attorneys—and just as frequently their newly divorced ex.”

But no matter how much the media might portray a speedy, cheap divorce as the best possible solution to marital ills, the research still indicates that divorce is taken far too lightly in this country.

(Source: Tracey Harrington McCoy, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do in Arkansas; Why Divorce Laws Are Getting Stricter,” Newsweek, May 17, 2015.)

 

The New Research: The Divorce Lawyer and the Mortician

A striking correlation between divorce and premature death has been noted in a number of studies. That correlation is all the more impressive now that researchers at the University of Arizona have completed a comprehensive analysis integrating a raft of such studies. 

Quantifying the elevation of risk, the researchers calculate that when divorced adults are compared to married peers, they face “a 23% increase in the probability of being dead from all causes at each future assessment.” Through further parsing of the data, the researchers establish that “relative to women, men evidenced significantly greater risk for early death following divorce.” Their statistical model also reveals that adults who were “younger than 65 years at the start of the study evidenced greater risk for early death following divorce than did participants who were older than 65 years at the start of the study.”

Though the risk associated with divorce seemed particularly pronounced among younger men, that risk was remarkably widespread, appearing in country after country, study after study. So robust was this linkage between divorce and early death that the researchers conclude that “the number of control variables . . . was unassociated with mortality risk.”

Highlighting the ways that divorce may help cause early death, the researchers note that “as a psychological and interpersonal stressor, divorce has the potential to disrupt biological processes that are important to health and well-being and, in doing so, can increase risk for health problems.” This point is clarified by evidence that “marital separation and divorce are associated with a wide range of negative health behaviors.” Compared to married peers, the divorced are much more likely to experience “severe insomnia and problems of sleep maintenance.” The divorced are also more likely to use alcohol and tobacco than are their married peers, but they are less likely to maintain healthy habits such as eating breakfast and exercising regularly.

Nor can the researchers ignore the way divorce impoverishes men and women, so exposing them to possibly lethal risks. Pointing to data showing that “men and women experience a loss of financial well-being following divorce,” the researchers cite studies indicating that “structural change in financial well-being is a robust predictor of important health outcomes.”

No one, the researchers stress, should infer from their findings that “divorce and its correlates are uniformly bad for health, whereas marriage and its correlates are uniformly good for health.” Nonetheless, the overall finding of this study is unmistakable: “on average, divorced adults are at increased risk for early mortality relative to their married counterparts.” That simple finding sums up the tragedy of tens of thousands of lives cut short prematurely since the Divorce Revolution began some 40 years ago.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America, Winter 2013, Vol. 27 Number 1. Study: David A. Sbarra, Rita W. Law, and Robert M. Portley, “Divorce and Death: A Meta-Analysis and Research Agenda for Clinical, Social, and Health Psychology,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6.5 [September 2011]: 454-474.)