Marital Biography and Health in Old Age

Mitarbeiter in diesem Projekt:

The study is motivated by the well-documented health and longevity advantage of married persons over the unmarried. Population ageing and changes in family norms make analyses of the marriage-health nexus in the older population relevant. The objective of this study is to gain more knowledge about health differentials by marital status in old and oldest age, using the broad spectrum of data provided by the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Applying a life course perspective, differences in health outcomes in later life are not only examined by current marital status but by marital biography. Additionally, this study contributes to the literature by analysing objective health indicators of physical and cognitive functioning functioning (tests of grip strength, expiratory air flow, memory, verbal fluency). Possible self-selection effects of healthier individuals into a (stable) marriage are addressed by considering health differences in early life. The SHARE dataset allows to investigate cross-country differences of marital biographies as well as partnership biographies. The national variations in marital timing and trajectories are referred to the national marriage-related legislations. Additionally, the longitudinal dimension of SHARE is used to analyse the development of physical and cognitive health outcomes after widowhood. Results show an association between current marital status and performance in the health tests. Compared to the never married, married Europeans show better results for all tested health outcomes in old age. Adjusting for health status in childhood does not change results. Comparing different subgroups of married persons wrt. marital biography, the following factors are related to worse health test outcomes: Marriage under age 20, frequent marital conflict, and for the physical tests, remarriage. There are no signs of a negative accumulation of years spent separated or widowed. Longitudinal analyses of health development after death of a spouse reveal a negative effect for cognition performance but not for grip strength. In case of memory performance, longer time spent in widowhood seems to aggravate the negative effect. The project is conducted as a doctoral dissertation within the MaxNetAging Research School of the Max Planck International Research Network on Aging. Results of the project have been presented at several university seminars, interdisciplinary conferences and workshops. The final version will be published as a monography in 2018.

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