Although many marriage ceremonies include a vow to stay together in sickness and in health, new research
reveals that serious illnesses can cause an increase in divorce rates
among older couples.
A study from scientists at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Michigan’s Institutes for Social Research reveals that not only can a major spousal illness lead to an increased risk of divorce, but that the risk is considerably more pronounced in cases where the wife is the partner who has the disease.
The Study’s Findings
The study involved 2,700 married couples that had at least one spouse over the age of 50 at the start of the research. The authors tracked these couples for almost 20 years, starting in 1992 and ending in 2010. They recorded data about the couples’ relationships, including their marital status.
By the end of the study approximately 47 percent of couples had experienced some form of major illness, and 31 percent of the marriages had ended in divorce. Importantly, in almost half of the marriages that ended in divorce the wife had fallen ill. The most common illnesses in these cases of divorce were cancer, heart problems, lung disease, and stroke. While the researchers also examined the potential implications of a husband’s disease on divorce, they found only a much weaker correlation.
The study’s authors, as well as other social scientists, have offered a variety of theories to explain why the wives’ illnesses correlate so strongly with divorce. However, the authors also point out that the study did not track which spouse initiated the divorce, which can make it more difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the effect.
Many ideas center around the different gender roles in the marriage, especially since the study focused on older couples who were raised in a time when such roles were more firmly ingrained in society. A wife’s illness often forces the husband into a caretaker role, which can be difficult and stressful for anyone, but especially for older men who grew up in a time when that was not expected of them. If men are initiating these divorces, then it may simply be that the stress of caring for an ailing partner is too much for them.
On the other hand, if women are the ones initiating these divorces, something the study’s authors point out is very possible since women initiate about two out of every three divorces overall, it may be that the men are failing in the caretaking role, and the wife would rather rely on other family or professional help instead.
Contact an Attorney for Help
If you are interested in pursuing a divorce for any reason, contact a skilled DuPage County divorce attorney. Our firm can help guide you through this complex and emotionally difficult process.