Marital status and union dissolution are strongly associated with health. Separated men and women have a mental health disadvantage compared to partnered individuals. The lower financial and social resources of separated individuals partly explained their poorer health. However, it is unclear whether this association is due to the loss in income and support precisely experienced through the separation. Due to the frequent asymmetry in partners’ individual resources within couples, these losses are gender-specific, giving rise to a debate currently in France. As part of this debate, we explored to what extent gender-specific losses contribute to the separation/mental health association. We used the two-wave survey “Health and Occupational Trajectories,” looking at 7321 individuals aged 25–74 in couple in 2006. We analyzed their depressive symptoms self-reported at second wave (2010) and their association with separation between the two waves; we took into account the concomitant social and income changes, as well as the socioeconomic and health situation in 2006. Separation between 2006 and 2010 is significantly associated with depressive symptoms in 2010, independently of the situation in 2006; it is associated with a loss of income, mainly in women, and a loss of support, slightly more pronounced in men. Nested logistic models indicate that the loss of support explained 5.5% of the separation/mental health association in men; the loss of income explained 19.2% of it in women. In France, an economic penalty of separation still primarily affects women and substantially contributes to the mental health vulnerability of newly separated women.
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With the exception of the French overseas territories.
Definition of union includes non-cohabiting unions (due to job constraints, recent union, re-partnership, family constraints, etc.), which cannot be identified in this survey. In France, couples in this situation, known as LAT (Living Apart Together), represented less than 10% of people aged 21–50 years old in 2005, and 29% of them had been in this union for less than 1 year and were therefore not counted as being in a union according to the definition used for this survey (Régnier-Loilier et al. 2009). The way in which LAT partners’ living standards might change after a separation could be very different across LAT situations; however, compared with cohabiting couples, changes after separation might be smaller because the LAT arrangement results in fewer economies of scale for the couple.
Although self-reported, we consider this measure of income as objective, in line with the literature presented in the background section. It may have been interesting to use subjective measures (such as economic well-being or difficulties making ends meet), as these might differ from objective ones, especially in the case of separation. Such variables are not available in the survey we used. Moreover, from a public policy perspective, if we highlight some associations between a decrease in adjusted income and the worsening of mental health, this clears the way for public interventions to moderate the income decrease following separation to avoid mental health deterioration.
The amount was determined from the 2010 reference tables for setting child support payments (Ministère de la justice et des libertés, Direction des affaires civiles et du sceau).
We use the OECD-modified equivalence scale. This scale assigns a value of 1 to the household head, 0.5 to each additional adult member or child aged 14 and over and 0.3 to each younger child.
Results available from the authors on request.
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We would like to thank the reviewers whose comments and suggestions on the earlier version of the manuscript helped us to improve our paper. This research was founded by the French Solidarity Fund for Autonomy (CNSA) and the Social Security Scheme for Self-Employed Workers (RSI) in the framework of a call for project of the French institute of public health research (IRESP) [no. AAP-2011-01].
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Biotteau, A., Bonnet, C. & Cambois, E. Risk of Major Depressive Episodes After Separation: The Gender-Specific Contribution of the Income and Support Lost Through Union Dissolution. Eur J Population 35, 519–542 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-018-9488-y
- Mental health
- Union dissolution
- Socioeconomic determinants