Divorce and physical health: A three-level meta-analysis

Inés Pellón-Elexpuru*, Rianne Van Dijk, Inge Van der Valk, Ana Martínez-Pampliega, Asier Molleda, Susana Cormenzana

*Corresponding author for this work

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Divorce is often considered a major and stressful life transition. Given that divorcees are overrepresented in primary care and there is a association between individuals' physical health and psychological adjustment, potential post-divorce health problems are of concern. Yet, empirical evidence is lacking on the magnitude of the overall physical health risk after divorce, on possible differences across specific pathologies, and on factors that may increase or reduce this risk. The current meta-analysis addresses these issues. We identified 94 studies including u = 248 relevant effect sizes, based on N = 1,384,507 participants. Generally, compared to married individuals, divorcees showed significantly worse self-reported health (OR = 1.20, [1.08–1.33]), experienced more physical symptoms (OR = 1.34, [1.17–1.53]), and had a higher risk for diabetes (OR = 1.18 [1.05–1.33]), joint pathologies (OR = 1.24, [1.14–1.34]), cardiovascular (OR = 1.24, [1.09–1.41]) and cerebrovascular conditions (OR = 1.31, [1.14–1.51]), and sexually transmitted diseases (OR = 2.48, [1.32–4.64]). However, they had no increased risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, cancer and cancer development, disabilities or limitations, or cognitive pathologies. Nor did divorcees significantly differ from married individuals when aggregating all pathologies to measure overall physical health problems (OR = 1.14, [0.85 to 1.54]). Yet, moderation analyses revealed that being female, unemployed, childless, or having a lower education constitutes a higher risk for overall physical health problems after divorce. The same applied to having a heavy alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and being overweight. Our meta-analysis shows that divorcees are at heightened risk of certain pathologies, with sexually transmitted diseases as a particular post-divorce hazard. These findings call for more awareness among counsellors and physicians on divorcees’ health conditions and the characteristics that make divorcees even more vulnerable to health problems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117005
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024


  • Disease
  • Divorce
  • Meta-analysis
  • Physical health
  • Separation


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