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Divorced women in rural areas are more prone to illness than married women, according to a study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University.
The study followed 416 rural women over the course of a decade to determine the effects of divorce. Among the women participating, 102 had recently gone through a divorce. Participants were interviewed several times in the early 1990s and then again in 2001.
“What we found was that the act of getting a divorce produced no immediate effects on (physical) health, but it did have effects on mental health. Ten years later, those effects on mental health led to effects in physical health,” said study co-author, Fred Lorenz.
In the early interviews between 1991 and 1994, the women who had recently divorced reported levels of mental stress seven percent greater than married women with no difference in physical health.
However, 10 years later, the researchers found a significant increase in the amount of physical illness
reported by the group of divorced women – 37 percent more than the married group. No difference in mental stress could be linked to this increase.
Lorenz said the increase in physical illness among divorced women is likely due to the various stresses associated with ending a marriage, including parenting and financial problems.
According to him, women in rural areas may be especially prone to health problems because of fewer support systems, lack of employment opportunities, poor healthcare, and financial constraints.
“It looks like (divorced women) are trapped in this vicious circle of financial problems and other stressful life events…” said Lorenz.
Researchers are optimistic that findings such as these can help raise awareness as to the negative impact of divorce and the need for community intervention and support.
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