“We found that women are doubly vulnerable to marital dissolution in the face of illness,” said Amelia Karraker, a researcher at University of Michigan's institute for social research.

Married women diagnosed with a serious health condition may find themselves struggling with the impact of their disease while also experiencing the stress of divorce, Karraker noted.

For the study, researchers analysed 20 years of data on 2,717 marriages from the Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the institute for social research since 1992.

At the time of the first interview, at least one of the partners was over age 50.

The researchers examined how the onset of four serious physical illnesses - cancer, heart problems, lung disease and stroke - affected marriages.

They found that overall, 31 percent of marriages ended in divorce over the period studied.

Women are more likely to be widowed, and if they are the ones who become ill, they are more likely to get divorced, the study showed.

"Gender norms and social expectations about caregiving may make it more difficult for men to provide care to ill spouses," Karraker noted.


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