Gray Divorce and Mental Health in the United Kingdom

Marco Tosi , University of Padua
Thijs van den Broek, Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management

The number of older people who experience marital break-up has increased in many Western countries. However, limited empirical attention has been given to the study of the consequences of later-life divorce or separation. The small body of research focusing on the mental health of divorced older adults is often cross-sectional and tends to blur estimates by capturing a mix of immediate and long-term effects of divorce. Drawing on data from eight waves of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2009-2017), we apply the crisis model of divorce, which have been tested on the general population, to analyze the effect of marital break-up on the mental health of adults aged 50 or over. We estimate distributed (individual) fixed effects linear regression models to examine changes in SF-12 mental health and GHQ depression score before, upon and after gray divorce. The results indicate that older adults’ mental health decreases and depression symptoms increase the years before and during union dissolution. After separation, mental health and depression gradually return to previous baseline levels, indicating that older adults are able to recover after marital break-up. Additionally, we investigate the moderating role of parenthood status and higher-order marriages. Post-divorce adjustments are slower for parents than for childless, and among adults who separate for multiple times than among first-time divorcees. The results suggest that partnership and fertility histories moderate the negative effect of later-life divorce on mental well-being.

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 Presented in Session 93. Mental Health and Wellbeing