In sickness and in health, till death us do part is a little one sided for older married couples.
A recent study by researchers from the University of Michigan found that the risk for divorce is higher for older couples when the wife, not the husband, gets sick.
Researchers looked at 20 years of data on 2,717 married couples and it was found that 75% of marriages dealing with chronic disease, end in divorce. They looked at various diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer and the effect of disease or chronic ill health had on the marriages. The findings are, to say the least, interesting.
Of the 2,717 married couples, 31% of the marriages ended in divorce. Although men were more likely than women to get sick, divorce was more common when the wife became ill. This was not the first study of its kind and the findings were consistent with earlier studies. Bad luck you might say for women on three fronts – first you get sick, then you get a divorce and then your ex-husband remarries. Men, you might say, fare better. Their wife becomes ill, they divorce and they remarry and live happily ever after with a younger spouse who will take care of them if they get ill. Statistically men marry more quickly after divorce and on average live longer if they are in a happy marriage.
The reasons for this phenomenon are not so clear cut. A number of suggestions have been put forward. It is possible that men are not equipped emotionally for the commitment of caring for a sick wife whereas women are socialised from an early age to care for members of the family who are unwell. Caring, perhaps, is as it always was, seen as women’s work.
It isn’t clear from the research which spouse asked for the divorce, but it appears it is women who initiate the divorce, possibly because they don’t feel like their husbands are giving them adequate support, preferring to rely on friends and family for the care they need. Given that we all are living longer it is easy to see that the impact on family lives could be immense. Women living longer with chronic health conditions may need more care and support to prevent a pretty miserable old age, not to mention the long term cost to the NHS.
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