Divorce and Death: A Case Study for Health Psychology



Marital separation and divorce are associated with increased risk for early death, and the magnitude of this association rivals that of many well-established public health factors. In the case of divorce, however, the mechanisms explaining precisely why and how some people are at risk for early death remain unclear. This paper reviews what is known about the association between divorce and risk for all-cause mortality, then discusses four emerging themes: the biological intermediaries linking divorce to pathophysiology and disease onset, moving beyond the statistical mean, focusing research on the diathesis-stress model, and studying how opportunity foreclosures may place people on a trajectory toward poor distal health outcomes. These ideas are grounded in a set of public lay commentaries about the association between divorce and death; in this way, the paper seeks to integrate current research ideas with how the general public thinks about divorce and its correlates. Although this paper focuses on divorce, many of the emerging themes are applicable to the study of psychosocial stress and health more generally. Therefore, the study of divorce and death provides a good case study for health psychology and considers new questions that can be pursued in a variety of research areas.