Divorce Has A Silver Lining: It Can Be Good For A Woman's Health

Brilliance | Dec. 18, 2017

Divorce is rarely a happy occasion. Even when it's a much-needed end to a bad relationship, it's still full of unpleasant emotions and uncomfortable changes. Research about people's lives afterward, however, provides a silver lining: divorce can lead to health improvements — for women, anyway. Men aren't quite so lucky.

I'm A Survivor

For a 2017 study published in the Journal of Women's Health, researchers used data from the national Women's Health Initiative to analyze various health measures of nearly 80,000 women aged 50–79 over a three-year period. They divided the women into three groups: those who went from single to married, those who went from married to divorced/separated, and those whose marital status didn't change over the three years.

They found that when women married later in life (as one group in the study did), they tended to gain more weight and drink more alcohol than women who stayed single. But when women that age divorced, all sorts of good things happened to their health: they lost weight and inches around their waists, increased their exercise, and improved their diets more than their still-married counterparts.

Good For The Goose, But Not The Gander

For men, the reality appears to be the opposite. A 2011 study from Ohio State University found that while men weren't at much risk of weight gain after marriage, they were 63 percent more likely to gain weight after divorce. Women's risk was half that. Importantly, this was only true of people who were over 30; marrying and divorcing young didn't have the same effects on weight.

Why such a difference? Ohio State sociology professor Zhenchao Qian thinks it may come down to gender roles. "Married women often have a larger role around the house than men do, and they may have less time to exercise and stay fit than similar unmarried women," Qian said. "On the other hand, studies show that married men get a health benefit from marriage, and they lose that benefit once they get divorced, which may lead to their weight gain."

Bottom line? Whether you're a man or a woman getting married or divorced, it's a good idea to keep a watchful eye on your waistline during those important transition years.

Hear Dr. Eli Finkel, relationship expert, explain how the best marriages work on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and Gretta.

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