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Maritial difficulties can be bad for health

A study has found that marital stress can have an adverse effect on the health of elderly people.

india Updated: Mar 27, 2006 12:13 IST
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A new study has found that marital stress can have an adverse effect on the health of people, especially the elderly.

The study, by a team of sociologists from the University of Texas-Austin and Ohio State University, examined longitudinal data from the period of 1986-94 from the Americans’ Changing Lives panel survey to determine how positive and negative aspects of marital quality affect physical health and whether these effects vary with age or gender.

The researchers also used three waves of interviews with 1,049 individuals between ages 24-96.

Debra Umberson, from the University of Texas-Austin, and the study’s lead researcher, said that they found that being unhappily married could have an adverse effect on an individual’s health.

“Unhappily married individuals have yet another reason to identify marital difficulties and seek to improve marital quality. Their very health may depend on it.”

“While self-rated health tends to decline over time for the sample as a whole, it appears that marital strain accelerates this decline. Moreover, marital strain appears to matter for health as individuals age,” she added.

The researchers also found that all else being equal, the absence of marital negativity may benefit health, but only after they have crossed the age of 70. Similarly, marital negativity may be detrimental to health, but once again after the age of 70.

The study discovered that there is no evidence of gender differences on the effects of marital quality on health at any age, and that negative marital experiences are more important to the health trajectories of older individuals than to younger ones.

Older people are more vulnerable to be negatively effected by marital discord because not only are marital difficulties a key source of stress, which can undercut vulnerable immune systems, but the strain it causes appears to have a cumulative effect on health, much like smoking cigarettes does. As individuals age, they lose key social figures in their lives and rely more on their spouse as a source of meaning in their lives, if this is not available then the stress increases.

The study is published in the current month’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a publication of the American Sociological Association.