Marital Disruption, Disability and Longevity

Barbara Schone, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), HHS
Liliana E. Pezzin, Medical College of Wisconsin

In this paper, we combine insights from two strands of literature to explain differences in health, disability and longevity among elderly persons with different marital history and family type. One strand, focusing on biological and psychological mechanisms, provides evidence that social support affects health outcomes. Other literature reveals that marital disruption affects the nature of intergenerational relations. Since children represent an important form of social support for elderly parents, we conjecture that changes in parent-child relations arising from marital disruption will affect the incidence and trajectory of disability and mortality of older persons. We expect these effects to work directly (through divorce/remarriage) and indirectly (through family structure and quality of relations between parents and children). Multivariate models that control for socio-economic and health characteristics of elderly persons and their families are applied to data from the first five waves of the Health and Retirement Survey to test the empirical implications of the model.

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Presented in Session 39: Family and Health over the Life Course