Marital disruption and physical illness: The impact of divorce and spouse death on illness

J. Sherwood Williams, Judith P. Siegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most research focusing on life stresses and illness have focused on the history of stress on persons who present physicians with disease symptoms and have used ex-post-facto samples. These studies have tended to focus on specialized samples and, thus, screen out the potential effects of psychosocial factors. This study examines the relationship between two critical life stressors, divorce and spouse death, and physical illness in the general population. Data for this study were gathered from a national probability sample of noninstitutionalized adults in the continental United States. The influence of age, sex, education, and income on the relationship between the two life stressors and illness are examined. Statistically significant results were found between both life stressors and illness. Conditional analysis also yielded evidence that both divorce and spouse death were responded to differently depending on the respondent age, sex, income, and educational attainment. Among the findings, the significant increase of illness among younger persons who had experienced a divorce or the death of a spouse is considered most noteworthy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-562
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1989


  • divorce
  • life stressors
  • physical illness
  • spouse death
  • traumatic stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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