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The impact of a wife's illness on the stability of a marriage

A woman in California who gets a divorce may be at a higher risk for cancer than a man in the same situation. A study that appeared in "The Journal of Health and Social Behavior" in 2005 reported that a wife's illness raises the divorce risk while a husband's illness does not.

Other research supports this conclusion. A study conducted by researchers at Purdue University and Iowa State University examined 2,701 marriages and how they were affected by diagnoses of heart disease, lung disease, cancer and stroke. Women who had heart problems or a stroke were at a higher risk for divorce than women who developed cancer. Men were at no higher risk.

One sociologist points out that men's health tends to benefit more from marriage than women's health. This could be because women may give men more support and care in a marriage than men provide to women. When they can no longer give that support because of illness, men may be more likely to leave. Men also tend to have few support systems in place when they become ill. However, these conclusions are largely based on examining older couples. Younger couples might adhere less to traditional gender roles and may be less likely to fall into these patterns. Furthermore, same-sex couples seem to have a more equal arrangement in cases of illness.

There are a number of factors that may affect a divorce settlement, and the illness of one spouse could be one of those factors. For example, maintaining health insurance could be a particular concern of the spouse who is not well. Depending on how serious the illness is, child custody negotiations could also be affected by a spouse's illness. A mother may have been the main caregiver for the child, but if she has suffered a debilitating stroke, she might be unable to offer adequate care.

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