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Marriage vow of sickness and in health often broken when wife falls ill, says study

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The strain of illness, specifically when a wife gets seriously sick, can often lead to divorce, says a new study.

"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," says Amelia Karraker, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).

The study, released this week, included analysis of 20 years of data on nearly 3,000 marriages. Researchers reviewed how serious physical illnesses, including heart issue, lung disease, cancer and stroke, impacted a marriage scenario.

The study comes at a time when divorce rates are still skyrocketing and another study reveals older people are not re-marrying at past rates.

The Michigan study reveals 31 percent of the marriages end in divorce when a chronic illness hits the female spouse even though more husbands typically develop serious health issues.

"We found that women are doubly vulnerable to marital dissolution in the face of illness," says Karraker.  "They are more likely to be widowed, and if they are the ones who become ill, they are more likely to get divorced."

Karraker says one prime reason is that wives are more comfortable and able to deal with a care-taking scenario in a marriage.

"Gender norms and social expectations about care giving may make it more difficult for men to provide care to ill spouses," Karraker speculates.  "And because of the imbalance in marriage markets especially in older ages, divorced men have more choices among prospective partners than divorced women.

While the study did not investigate whom in the marriage typically initiates a divorce researchers have some theories.

"We did not have information on who initiated divorce in this study.  But it's important to keep in mind that in most cases, it's women who do so.  So it could be that when women become ill and their husbands are not doing a very good job caring for them, they would rather that he just go and they rely on friends and family who will take care of them."

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