Commenter Matt Moore has asked what I could possibly mean in the entry below when I speak of the medical impact of divorce. It so happens that it is frickin’ huge, and that I wrote an unsigned editorial on the subject for the Post in May. Click below for an excerpt from the original version.
On Tuesday [May 22] Statistics Canada released the results of a major longitudinal study showing that the breakup of a marriage creates a disproportionate risk of depression for men. Divorce or separation is obviously no picnic for women either; in the study, a breakup tripled their risk of experiencing a bout of depression (under a definition that meets the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-III) within the next two years. But for men, the odds increased by a factor of six.
The finding of an unusually strong psychological effect of divorce [or separation] on men is one that many other researchers have arrived at in many different countries. ...National Population Health Survey figures confirm that 34% of men who were involved in a breakup reported a departure of children from their household; only 3% of women did… What is interesting, though, is that men remain worse off even when other economic and social factors [including alienation from children] are corrected for. The Statscan boffins cancelled out every external variable they could think of—income, presence of children, self-reported “social support”, employment status, education, age, prior history of depression—and men still came out slightly worse off, with a relative depression risk of 3.3 compared to women’s 2.4.
This may serve to confirm one of the strongest overall findings in contemporary social science: namely, that marriage has a myriad of core mental and physical health benefits for men in particular. One U.S. study found that nine out of ten married men alive at age 48 would still be alive at 65, but that of ten single men, only six would live to see their first pension cheque. The suicide rate among married men is about half that of never-marrieds and one-third that of divorcés. A new Japanese study tracked nearly 100,000 people aged 40-79 for ten years and found that never-married men were, quite simply, twice as likely to be dead at the end of the decade. On the whole, the evidence suggests that being single is probably worse for a man’s life expectancy than moderate cigarette smoking.
The underlying reasons for this are almost too obvious to be controversial, and may be related to the psychological effects (post-apartum depression?) seen by Statscan. Men, left alone, take worse care of themselves. They drink more and exercise less; they visit the doctor for checkups less often; they have no immediate help on hand if they get meningitis or fall off a roof; and if they do need hospital care, there may be no one to advocate for them amongst busy doctors and nurses. Hey, guys: anyone out there still afraid of commitment?