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Abstract

Economic restructuring in rural areas in recent decades has been accompanied by rising marital instability. To examine the implications of the increase in divorce for the health of rural women, we examine how marital status predicts adequacy of health insurance coverage and health care access, and whether these factors help to account for the documented association between divorce and later illness. Analyzing longitudinal data from a cohort of over 400 married and recently divorced rural Iowan women, we decompose the total effect of divorce on physical illness a decade later using structural equation modeling. Divorced women are less likely to report adequate health insurance in the years following divorce, inhibiting their access to medical care and threatening their physical health. Full-time employment acts as a buffer against insurance loss for divorced women. The growth of marital instability in rural areas has had significant ramifications for women's health; the decline of adequate health insurance coverage following divorce explains a component of the association between divorced status and poorer long-term health outcomes.