According to the New York Times, researchers started with a nationally representative sample of 15,827 of adults from age 45 to 80 in 1992. Over the course of 18 years, at least one-third of the people in their sample got divorced at least once. Additionally, about 8% of the study participants (1,211 people) also had a heart attack.
The researchers controlled for factors that could have skewed the data like lifestyle choices, age, race, and hypertension. What they discovered was that a woman who had been divorced once has a 24% increased risk of heart attack, compared to a woman who was continuously married, and women who had been divorced twice had a whopping 77% increased risk of heart attack. (Good reason to be bitter: Men who’ve been divorced more than once have a much lower increased risk of having a heart attack — about 30%). The risk shrinks among women who were remarried, back down to 35%.
These results, and their gender disparity, raise questions. Does the stress of a divorce outweigh the benefits of leaving an incompatible partner? How and why do women seem to handle the stress of a divorce differently than men? We already know that heart attacks manifest differently in women – and that women who suffer heart attacks are more likely to die than men.
The study’s lead author Matthew E. Dupre told the Times, “Divorce isn’t a classic risk factor, like smoking or high blood pressure. But we hope that caretakers and the general public will have a greater understanding of how the stress of divorce can affect their lives.” We never assumed that getting divorced would be a walk in the park, but this study is downright depressing.