By Margarita Nahapetyan
Dealing with the stress of divorce is much harder at a younger age than later in life, researchers from Michigan State University have found.
According to Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology who carried out the study, the younger a person is when going through a divorce, the higher is the risk for health problems. Liu said the results, which are published in the research journal Social Science & Medicine, suggest that older people have better coping skills to handle all the stress associated with divorce.
The conclusions were made after Liu and her team looked at the self-reported health of nearly 1,300 individuals who took part in a long-term national survey, called Americans' Changing Lives. Researchers analyzed the gap in health status between people who stayed married for the 15-year period of the study and their counterparts who were married at first and then got divorced, at certain ages and among different generations.
Liu came to the conclusion that gap in health status was wider among people of younger generation. For instance, among individuals who were born in the 50s, those who went through divorce when they were between 35 and 41 years of age, reported much more problems with health compared to their continuously married peers than those who got divorced between 44 and 50 years of age. In addition, the results revealed that in spite of the fact that splitting up was quite a common thing among baby boomers, the negative impact of a divorce on health was worse for them than it was for older people.
Researchers expected divorce to be less stressful for younger people, since splitting up is more prevalent for them. Liu assumed that this could be because the pressure to marry and stay in the marriage was stronger among older individuals, and so those who did finally split up may have been unhappy in the marriage, and therefore, felt a certain degree of relief after divorce.
Overall, the study results indicated that people who transitioned from marriage to divorce experienced faster decline in their health when compared to those who stayed married. However, the participants who stayed divorced for the entire length of the study showed no difference in health status than people who stayed married. This means that it is not the status of being married or divorced, that has a negative impact on a person's health, but the process of transitioning from marriage to divorce that is stressful and affects health, Liu said.
Previous research on the matter found that divorce has a toll on people's health even if they marry again. Linda Waite, investigator and sociologist at the Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, was quoted as saying that when people are under the stress of divorce, they do not pay attention to their health. They are less likely to see a doctor, less likely to work out and more likely to lack sleep. And even though remarriage improves overall well being and helps put divorced individuals back on track, some damage had already been done to their health.
Liu suggests that more social and family support is needed for young people who go through the stress of divorce. This, in the expert's opinion, could include divorce counseling which would help people cope with the stress, or offering therapy and prevention programs to married couples in order to help them maintain marital satisfaction.