Washington: So it turns out that "in sickness and in health" is a wedding vow really hard to keep true to the word, as a new study claims that divorce rates are high if either of the spouse is ill, and higher with the wives being sick.
The Iowa State University study analyzed the divorce rate for couples in which either spouse was diagnosed with a serious illness. The study found a 6 percent higher probability of divorce for couples in which wives got sick compared to marriages in which wives remained healthy. However, a husband's illness did not increase the risk for divorce.
Amelia Karraker, lead author of the study, said that the data does not explain why the case was such, but there are a few reasons why illness can add stress to a marriage.
For example, the healthy spouse is often the primary caregiver and may have to take sole responsibility of managing the household.
Quality of care is another factor. Wives are generally less satisfied with the care from their husbands, Karraker said. That's because men, especially older men, have not been socialized to be caregivers in the same way women have, and are less comfortable in that role.
Karraker and colleague, Kenzie Latham, an assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, used data from the Health and Retirement Study, which does not indicate whether the husband or wife initiated the divorce. But it is possible some women are ending the marriage because of their care.
Of the 2,701 marriages included in their study, 32 percent ended in divorce, compared to 24 percent due to widowhood. The marriage data covered a nearly 20-year timeframe and one spouse had to be at least 51 years old at the beginning of that period. Divorce was more common when respondents in the study were younger, whereas death was more likely as respondents got older. Researchers found the probability of widowhood increased by 5 percent when husbands got sick and 4 percent when wives got sick.
Other studies have found married couples have better physical and mental health. Ironically, Karraker's research shows that illness puts women at risk of losing those health benefits from marriage.
Karraker's interest in studying illness and marriage was sparked by criticism of politicians, such as John Edwards and Newt Gingrich, for divorcing their sick wives. Through her work, Karraker has heard from women with similar experiences or women with friends who got divorced after illness.
The study is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.