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J Health Soc Behav. 2008 Sep;49(3):239-53.

The times they are a changin': marital status and health differentials from 1972 to 2003.

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  • 1Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1111, USA.


Although the meanings and rates of being married, divorced, separated, never-married, and widowed have changed significantly over the past several decades, we know very little about historical trends in the relationship between marital status and health. Our analysis of pooled data from the National Health Interview Survey from 1972 to 2003 shows that the self-rated health of the never-married has improved over the past three decades. Moreover, the gap between the married and the never married has steadily converged over time for men but not for women. In contrast, the self-rated health of the widowed, divorced, and separated worsened over time relative to the married, and the adverse effects of marital dissolution have increased more for women than for men. Our findings highlight the importance of social change in shaping the impact of marital status on self-reported health and challenge long-held assumptions about gender, marital status, and health.

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