Divorced women get ill.

That is right, you heard it. If you get divorced, not only do you lose your piece of the heteronormativity pie, but you also become mentally ill. Sometimes, I wonder if these people write in a bubble of reality that has yet to be touched by feminist scholarship.
Anyway, according to this study, women that get divorced suffer long-term mental health problems. The problem here of course being that they are now single, not that we live in a society that doesn’t support single women, especially older ones. I don’t doubt that these findings are true, I am just wondering why they are true.

The study, spanning 10 years, focused on what happens to rural women’s health after their marriage ends, compared with women who stay married, said Fred Lorenz, who co-authored the report.
“What we found was that the act of getting a divorce produced no immediate effects on (physical) health, but it did have effects on mental health,” Lorenz said. “Ten years later, those effects on mental health led to effects in physical health.”
The findings came from data gathered from rural Iowa women who were interviewed three times in the early 1990s, and again in 2001. All 416 women interviewed were the mothers of adolescent children when the study began. Among them, 102 women were recently divorced.

Furthermore, if you get remarried, you are less likely to suffer these problems. Furthermore, they found that divorce had long-term physical health effects but they do in fact recognize the role of finances in the maintenance of health. Poor, mentally ill, physically ill, with child and SINGLE.
Is marriage our only solution here?

and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

15 Comments

  1. Rachel
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t suppose that the stress involved in
    a) securing child support/alimony,
    b) making ends meet on one income (that would likely to be only 70% of what a man would make),
    and/or
    c) the potentially negative interactions with their ex-husbands (which could be consist of harassment, physical violence, or simply be as emotionally distressing as seeing him parade around some younger replacement wife)
    might have something to do with long-term mental health? In that case, marriage may not be the only option, but – as common sense would dictate – cracking down on any of these mitigating factors (i.e. deadbeat dads, income inequality) would help ameliorate this, I would think.

  2. ArsenicandEarlGrey
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Wait, they’re basing the mental health of all the divorced women in the country on a test group in rural Iowa?
    Of course they’re having problems. Of all the places in this country where is sucks to be single and divorced, rural places are the worst. Everyone’s religious for the most part (you’ve broken a sacred covenant!), and everyone meddles in your business. I know, I lived with my single, divorced mother in a rural area until I was ten…the neighbor once came over and ‘helped’ by rearranging Mom’s cabinets.
    I bet they don’t have this kind of problem in France, where it’s perfactly socially acceptable not to be married. Hell, it’s even okay not to be married and raise kids! Imagine that. I’d say a lot of that study’s findings are due to the location, and the rest are due to the fact that in this country you still have to be married to be considered “complete” or “normal.”

  3. Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    There are a couple of things that make it pretty silly to compare the situations of women who divorce and women who stay married in this way. For one thing, divorce itself is very often an incredibly stressful process–it’s not done overnight in the snap of your fingers, but often takes as long as years from the point of the decision to split to the point of having all the papers signed. During this time, there’s usually acrimony over all sorts of issues that have tremendous emotional resonance–money, children, favorite possessions, as well as the general strain of fighting it out with someone you once loved. That going through this should leave someone with some depression or other mental health problems, at least for a period of time, is hardly surprising. That there is a connection between mental health and subsequent physical health is also not surprising.
    The problem is in the counterfactual that somehow if the person who experienced all this had only stayed married, she would be just peachy. But guess what? People generally don’t leave _happy_ marriages. So the appropriate control group (which doesn’t exist) would actually be people who were miserable enough in their marriages to divorce but were somehow prevented from doing so by forces outside their control. I’m guessing they would have serious mental health consequences as well.
    Also, and this may be viewed as a less sympathetic comment, but from a social scientific perspective it’s an important point, you have to keep in mind issues of selection. To a certain extent, some fraction of divorces are _caused_ by the fact that one or the other partner (or both) has mental health problems (or substance abuse problems, or whatever)–it’s what led the couple to have problems in the first place. So naturally, those who have divorced are going to show up as having more such problems than those who have not.

  4. Posted November 1, 2006 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    This study seems pretty pro-feminist to me. All I’m seeing is that the disproportionate burden that divorcing and living single puts on a woman in this country tends to be associated with higher incidence of mental illness. It’s not like they’re saying that these women need The Cock to be happy. And while the reporter tries to extrapolate the experiences of the rural women to all women everywhere, I doubt that’s the intention of the study. There’s actually precious little information that’s taken seriously about rural social and economic dynamics, so I’m glad to see this getting some attention. I’m saying that it’s the article that sucks and not the study.

  5. Susan
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Is marriage our only solution here?
    It sounds to me as if marriage is the problem. Hasn’t study after study shown that women who stay single are healthier than women who marry?

  6. buffythewhite
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    In “The Case for Marriage” Linda Waite breaks down the benefits of marriage for women and men.
    Nine out of ten wives alive at age 48 will live to be senior citizens, compared with just eight out of ten divorced and single women.
    After controlling for education, race, age, and gender, people who live together are still three times more likely to say their arguments got physical (such as kicking, hitting, or shoving) in the past year than married couples.
    and..
    Marriage is good for your mental health. Married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed Americans. By contrast, getting divorced lowers both men’s and women’s mental health, increasing depression and hostility, and lowering one’s self-esteem and sense of personal mastery and purpose in life.
    Of course there are bad marriages where these benefits don’t apply. Women in marriages destined for divorce are most likely not getting these benefits. But overall marriage is a positive institution for women in many areas.

  7. Erin
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. My mental health improved drastically after my divorce. Got off my pills and life is lovely. ‘Course I haven’t got kids and I refuse to take my ex’s calls, so the stressors are significantly fewer.

  8. Posted November 1, 2006 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I feel like I’ve read that men are the ones most unable to cope with divorce, that they usually remarry because they can’t handle all the things their wives did that they usually took for granted.
    The single-woman=crazy argument has been around for a while. I wouldn’t doubt that it has some weight to it, but my question is – which came first the stigma or the state of mind? That is, shouldn’t we examine the role the negativity around being a divorced woman has on someone’s emotional well-being before we assume that its because women can’t survive on their own?

  9. manda
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s so much a person’s marital status that has an effect on his or her mental health, but the conditions of that status that make a real difference.

  10. Posted November 1, 2006 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Some of it may simply be an inability for researchers to measure “partnered” as opposed to “married”.
    On a vaguely related note, there was a book published recently on partnered sleeping habits, the first chapter of which is available online. I haven’t read it yet, but by summary, apparently simply having a bedmate is good for you.

  11. pdrydia
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I don’t see how this is saying ‘divorced women develop mental illness.’ It talks about “psychological stress” and “mental health,” but it’s not linking that to lack of penis. Specifically, it goes into the societal stresses placed on divorced women which lead to the stress, which in turn lead physical health problems in some 10 years down the road.
    I don’t like the first paragraph to the article, it’s misleading. I also dislike that the journalist chooses to not go into the implications of the data. If the intent was to give the information as-is, the introductory paragraph needs to go. It’s too easy to look at the data and come to the conclusion, ‘divorce is bad.’ That’s a popular truism as it is. Looks like the journalist is aiming for that anyway, with her tie-in to the Waite book. The ISU study, on the other hand, seems to first pinpoint a legitimate problem–disproportionately poor health in divorced women–and then proposes possible causes:
    “stresses associated with divorce, including financial problems, demotions, layoffs and parenting problems [...] poor job opportunities and fewer support systems [...] having to make changes in housing, insurance, transportation and time with children. [...] It looks like (divorced women) are trapped in this vicious circle of financial problems and other stressful life events [...] divorced women in rural areas may not have jobs that offer quality health care, and they may put off going to the doctor for preventive care because of financial constraints.”
    Further, the women who remarry after divorce are said to have “indirectly decreased the risk of health problems because they saw beneficial influences on their financial difficulties”.
    That’s a great ol’ big list of things to work on to better the quality of life for the divorced women in our country.

  12. AddieH
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Elissa raises a great point about the stigma. Women are trained to be concerned about the way they are viewed by others. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman who wasn’t at least slightly concerned with this (for example: I am a feminist and I want to be viewed as such so I act in ways to promote it). The negative view of single and divorced women must be a heavy weight to carry daily.
    I have a feeling that the mental health of these women is likely determined by the outlook of the community in which they exist. Of course I feel this way about a lot of things, we are all affected deeply by who we choose to surround ourselves with. If they are creating negativity about or towards us, we are bound to be impacted.

  13. Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I love this website, and I think the women who write for the original research recognized that bad marriages are not good things, and does not judge divorce as something that isn’t often necessary and inevitable for a woman’s wellbeing. These authors are working fully within feminist scholarship, and Samhita’s implication otherwise isn’t quite fair.
    It’s quite a mistake to condemn good research that has very positive implications for women. In this case, if care providers have their attention even further drawn to the effects of divorce (and other stressful life events) on women, they may be more likely to perform proper mental health screens and to realize that lack of aggressive care might have more significant negative outcomes than they might have previously realized.
    This paper raises the priority of women’s mental health in medical practice. That’s a good thing. Trashing the research for the vocabulary and editorial choices of a news summary isn’t particularly productive, or prone to reflect the state of current research and some of the excellent work that is being done by researchers working in a profeminist framework.

  14. Posted November 1, 2006 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Please note that the first sentence of my above post got totally garbled somehow, and please disregard the fact that it makes no sense. I was trying to say that the the women who write for “this site kick ass” and that the “authors of the original paper recognized…” A bunch of words got eaten by typepad somehow.

  15. dhsredhead
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    I’ve actually seen the “divorced women become insane” idea play out among my mom and my friend’s parents as well. One of the parents I knew who had been divorced claimed her and just about every woman she knew was taking prozac or some other medication for depression. I don’t think the problem here is marriage or divorce. It’s aging. Some women just seem to go insane around metaplause. The different between married and divorced women, are that married women have to put up a front, like everything is perfect and they also have a support person who can balance or help to hide their insanity. Divorced women have to deal with their insanity alone and cannot balance teenage children, work and all the stress that comes with living in a post-divorce family.

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

175 queries. 0.468 seconds