Good Marriages Gone Bad: Health mismatches as a cause of later-life marital dissolution

TitleGood Marriages Gone Bad: Health mismatches as a cause of later-life marital dissolution
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsWilson, SE, Waddoups, SL
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
KeywordsAdult children, Health Conditions and Status

This study explores the impact of health status on marital dissolution for couples in late mid-life. A key feature of the empirical framework is that it incorporates the interaction of health between the spouses. This specification allows not only a general test of whether health matters but also a specific test of an important implication of cost-benefit models of marriage dissolution. In particular, cost-benefit models imply that marriages exhibiting a health mismatch (where one partner has substantially better health than the other one) are more likely to get divorced than couples who have similar health (whether good or bad). Using a Cox proportional hazards model, we test this hypothesis by estimating the impact of different spousal health combinations on the probability of marital dissolution (as indicated by separation). Data are taken from four waves of the Health and Retirement Study (19921998) and consist of 4, 241 couples where at leas t one spouse is between the ages of 51 and 61 in 1992. We do find evidence for the health mismatch hypothesis, but only among couples in which both couples report their marriages to be very satisfying. Among other couples, no effect is found. This suggests that health is of minor consequence for already unhappy couples, but health mismatches pose a significant risk of dissolution to happy couples within this age cohort, possibly because of the unexpected nature of poor health at a relatively young age.

Endnote Keywords

Divorce/Aging/Health Status

Endnote ID


Citation Key6830