Marital Trajectories and Mortality Among US Adults

Published in: American Journal of Epidemiology, v. 170, no. 5, Sep. 1, 2009, p. 546-555

Posted on RAND.org on August 31, 2009

by Matthew E. Dupre, Audrey N Beck, Sarah O. Meadows

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More than a century of empirical evidence links marital status to mortality. However, the hazards of dying associated with long-term marital trajectories and contributing risk factors are largely unknown. The authors used 1992–2006 prospective data from a cohort of US adults to investigate the impact of current marital status, marriage timing, divorce and widow transitions, and marital durations on mortality. Multivariate hazard ratios were significantly higher for adults currently divorced and widowed, married at young ages (≤18 years), who accumulated divorce and widow transitions (among women), and who were divorced for 1–4 years. Results also showed significantly lower risks of mortality for men married after age 25 years compared with on time (ages 19–25 years) and among women experiencing ≥10 years of divorce and ≥5 years of widowhood relative to those without exposure to these statuses. For both sexes, accumulation of marriage duration was the most robust predictor of survival. Results from risk-adjusted models indicated that socioeconomic resources, health behaviors, and health status attenuated the associations in different ways for men and women. The study demonstrates that traditional measures oversimplify the relation between marital status and mortality and that sex differences are related to a nexus of marital experiences and associated health risks.

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