In Sickness and in Health

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Story Updated: May 2, 2014

"In sickness and in health and "Till death do us part" are phrases we know. But new research suggests that when serious illness strikes the divorce rate among seniors goes up. The twist: the illness-driven divorce bump only seems to apply when wives fall ill not husbands.

Starting in 1992, the Health and Retirement study conducted interviews every 2 years to track the onset of heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and stroke among more than 2700 couples. In each case, at least 1 spouse was over 50 when the study launched. As couples aged, chronic illness became an increasingly common problem particularly among husbands. And by 2010, nearly 1/3 of the marriages ended in divorce.

But the data revealed that it was only when the wife became ill not the husband that divorce risk rose to levels exceeding that of expected.

Exactly why remains unclear. But the study authors pointed to the influence of historical gender roles which may leave husbands less prepared to care for their wives, than wives are for their husbands.

I'm Dr. Cindy Haines of HealthDay TV with health information for healthier living.

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