Health and Well-being Effects on Later-life Divorce and Subsequent Repartnering

Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin, PIs
Health and Well-being Effects on Later-life Divorce and Subsequent Repartnering (NIA R15)

The later-life divorce rate has doubled in the past two decades, rising from 5 to 10 divorces per 1,000 married population ages 50 and older. More than 1 in 4 people who divorced in 2010 were ages 50+ compared with less than 1 in 10 in 1990. The recent rise in later-life divorce coupled with the aging of the population foregrounds the urgency of investigating the life course factors associated with divorce during older adulthood and the ramifications for individual well-being. It also raises new questions about what happens after a later-life divorce: how common is repartnering, whether through cohabitation or remarriage, and to what extent does repartnering ameliorate any negative effects of divorce on individual well-being? Although later-life divorce is accelerating, social scientists lack a basic understanding of divorce and repartnering that occur during later life. We use prospective, longitudinal data from the 1992-2010 Health and Retirement Study to begin to fill this critical gap. We estimate discrete time event history models to assess the life course factors (e.g., empty nest, retirement, and poor health) that are associated with later-life divorce and subsequent repartnering. And, we use latent growth models to investigate how later-life divorce is linked to trajectories in health and economic well-being, as well as the extent to which repartnering offers appreciable gains in well-being. Throughout the project, we assess variation by gender, marriage order, and cohort. The implications of later-life divorce are substantial, shaping not only the couple but also the well-being of family members, such as children and grandchildren, and the demands placed on broader institutional support systems designed for older adults and their families. Society at large will need to respond to the shifting (and potentially diminishing) family resources and supports that are available to older adults. As such, this project aligns with the research priorities of the NIA described in its strategic plan for research on aging in the 21st century. This project fully incorporates two undergraduate and one graduate research assistant to expose students to all stages of the research process and enhance the BGSU research environment.