Illness and Disability Onset as Risk Factors for Divorce: An Exploration of Mechanisms in the Health and Retirement Study

Amelia Karraker, Iowa State University
Kenzie Latham, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Chronic illness and disability affect many older Americans and has important implications for individuals, families, and society. One potential—but largely unexplored— consequence of chronic illness and disability in later life is marital dissolution via either divorce or widowhood. We use 20 years of data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to examine whether and through what mechanisms chronic illness onset and onset of difficulties with activities of daily living (ADL) are associated with subsequent martial dissolution via divorce or widowhood. Preliminary results indicate that while wife’s illness onset is associated with subsequent divorce, neither spouse’s onset of ADL-associated disability is associated with divorce. Further, disability does not mediate the association between wife’s illness onset and divorce, suggesting the possible role of gendered marriage markets at older ages that leave men with more partnership opportunities outside of the current marriage, rather than potential marital strains associated with caregiving.

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Presented in Session 199: Family Transitions in Later Life