Connections Between Gray Divorce and Women’s Health
By: M. Scott Gordon
Can the age at which you go through a divorce shape health issues in your life? According to a recent study that is forthcoming in the Journal of Women’s Health, researchers at the University of Arizona discovered that there is a link among weight gain, weight loss, marriage, and divorce. To be sure, the researchers determined that women who get married later in their lives tend to put on additional weight than women who get married when they are younger. On a related note, the researchers also found that women who are older when they go through a divorce—a term now commonly known as “gray divorce”—may be more likely to lose weight and to “see positive changes in their health.”
When it comes to older women, did the research actually determine that marriage can lead to less healthy eating habits, while divorce can result in healthier choices? In brief, the study did draw those basic conclusions. What else did the researchers discover about the connections between women’s health and divorce?
Study Shows That Marriage Is Not Always Connected to a Longer and Healthier Life
According to Dr. Randa Kutob, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, “earlier studies on marriage and divorce have shown that marriage is usually associated with a longer lifespan and fewer health problems, while divorce is associated with higher mortality.” Dr. Kutob went on to explain that the recent study seems to suggest the opposite. Indeed, “the interesting thing we found in our study,” she clarified, “is that with divorce in postmenopausal women, it’s not all negative, at least not in the short term.” Dr. Kutob is also the director of the Office of Continuing Medical Education at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
The study is a relatively new one of its kind, given that most studies surrounding women’s health and divorce tend to focus on younger women. Given the rising rate of “gray divorce” in America, Dr. Kutob and the other researchers at the University of Arizona were interested in learning more about how divorce impacts older women, as well. As Kutobe described it, she and the other researchers “were interested in the effects of marital transitions on older women, who are more susceptible to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”
How Did the Study Work?
Whose data did the researchers look at throughout the study? How many women participated? Dr. Kutob and the research team relied on data from the National Women’s Health Initiative. They examined data from women between the ages of 50 and 79, and they explored their health in relation to their marital status over a three-year time period. Each of the women could be classified into one of four groups:
What kinds of data points did the researchers use? They looked to some of the following health indicators:
Generally speaking, the women who went from being single to being married or in a married-like relationship tended to see an increase in body weight, while women who went from being married to being single or separated saw a “modest” decrease in their weight, as well as healthier blood pressure levels. There is more analysis to be done on the topic of women’s health and gray divorce, but the study represents a pathway for more researchers to engage in this topic.
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