While any couple who has been through filing for divorce understands the toll the process can take on a person's life, new research from the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that the effects on a person's health can be quite real.
According to Madison Park, reporting for CNN.com, the new study shows that divorced or widowed people have 20% more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes than married people. They also end up with 23% more mobility limitations, which include trouble climbing stairs or walking any significant distance.
Linda Waite of the University of Chicago and Mary Elizabeth Hughes of Johns Hopkins published their study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. They examined the marital history and health indicators for 8,652 middle-aged persons. The author's found that "people who lose a marriage take such damage to their health," according to Waite.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.
Divorced people see increased occurrences of chronic conditions, and in fact rate their own health as poorer than most others of their age, race, gender, and education who have been married and remain married, according to Waite.
"Losing a marriage or becoming widowed or divorced is extremely stressful," Waite says. "It's financially, sometimes, ruinous. It's socially extremely difficult. What's interesting is if people have [divorced] and remarried, we still see, in their health, the scars or marks – the damage that was done by this event."
Prior research has suggested that marriage confers protective health benefits on participants by providing financial, social and emotional stability to their lives, and this new research confirms the reverse is also true. The authors evaluated the health of participants by taking data in four categories: chronic conditions, mobility, depressive symptoms and the participants' self assessment.
The study also shows that marriage benefits participants in a number of ways. Women have more financial security when married, according to Waite, and this means they have better access to health care and reduced stress.
According to the study, married men have better health habits in comparison to single men. Waite says married men lead a "cleaner, healthier life, and less times in bars and eat better."
Furthermore, women tend to manage men's interactions with the medical system. They encourage men to keep up with preventative care. In both cases, spouses tend to be more careful with their partner's health than their own, encouraging them to take all appropriate steps and receive comprehensive care.
Even more intriguing were the study's findings on the effects of divorce even after remarriage. In those cases, the detrimental health indicators remained. For those who divorced and did not remarry, their health appeared poorer overall than those who did marry again.
In both cases, the divorced individuals showed on average worse health than those who never married, discrediting the famous maxim that it is "better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all."