The Link Between Divorce and Mortality

In 1897 the pioneering sociologist Emile Durkheim established that suicide rates ran considerably higher among divorced men and women than among their married peers.  In the decades that followed, other sociologists discovered that mortality rates overall ran significantly higher among the divorced than among the married.  In recent years, however, some scholars have wondered, how much does the linkage between divorce and elevated mortality rates still hold in a modern world where divorce has become common and relatively free of stigma?  A study on that question by a team at McGill University provides clear evidence that around the world—in Boston and Beijing, in Chicago and Copenhagen, in Hoboken and Hanoi, in Tulsa and Tokyo—divorce still decidedly elevates mortality rates.

To analyze the relationship between divorce and mortality, researchers scrutinized 625 mortality-risk estimates from 104 studies, all published between 1955 and 2011, based on data for more than 600 million men and women living in 24 countries, including the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brazil, Israel, and a number of Western and European countries.  Analysis of these data indicates that, around the globe, “marital dissolution is associated with a substantially increased risk of death among broad segments of the population.”  In simple statistical comparisons of mortality rates among divorced and separated men and women vs. married men and women, the researchers calculate a Hazard Ratio of 1.51, meaning that the mortality rate runs more than half again as high among divorced and married men and women than among married men and women.

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