Breaking up may be easier to do than it was a generation or two ago, but it takes a toll on women who get divorced. That’s the latest conclusion from a study of rural families in Iowa that’s grown with the passage of time. Iowa State University Statistics Professor Fred Lorenz says I-S-U’s Institute for Social and Behavioral Research began studying one group of families in 1989.
Families that had a “target child” in seventh grade and another within four years of that child’s age,living with biological parents. A couple years later they added to the study group another set of families, headed by divorced women. The current report is on the comparison between the women in those intact families, and the divorced women. The researchers collected data in the early 1990s and then again ten years later, in 2001. He says while depression hit the women right after divorcing, they shook it off rather quickly.
There was an immediate effect of divorce on the women, who reported feeling very low and depressed. Though that passed, ten years later the researchers went back and found higher levels of illness and ill health in the divorced women, and the review ten years later found more stress, as well — though it was related not to the past divorce, but to current stressful events in their lives.
Lorenz says it’s not just an attitude thing — life was harder for the divorced women. The divorced women had more “negative life events” happen — having kids get in trouble, a hard time keeping a job…divorced women had a higher incidence of that kind of thing happening to them, and that contributed to their feelings of distress ten years later.
Lorenz says the researchers then had another set of groups to compare, divorced women who remained single, and those who remarried. The women who remarried had better financial circumstances, and in that way the quality of their lives improved. Still, it wasn’t a cure-all and their health wasn’t as good a decade later as the women who’d never been divorced. Lorenz says that’s probably because the rural women who got divorced had trouble finding jobs good enough to give them consistent healthcare coverage, and went without care for at least some of the time in their lives.
The study will continue for at least another eight years, and the research group recently got a big federal grant. He hopes to go back one more time to the original parents in the study as they approach retirement age, and find out how they’re coping with the end of their careers and adjusting to retirement, so they can link those answers to the events that happened to the people earlier in their lives.
“We’re approaching twenty years,” Lorenz reflects. The kids in the study are almost as old as the parents were when it began, and the parents are getting old. He adds the researchers are about the same age as the parents, and notes that for him at least, the end of the study will be a retirement project.