We provide new evidence on the long-term impact of divorce on work disability among U.S. men. Using data from the 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation linked to U.S. Social Security Administration records, we assess the relationship between divorce and subsequent self-reports of work limitations and the receipt of federal disability benefits. The examination of self-reports and administrative records of medically qualified benefits provides dual confirmation of key relationships. We compare men who experienced a marital dissolution between 1975 and 1984 with continuously married men for 20 years following divorce using fixed-effects and propensity score matching models, and choose a sample to help control for selection into divorce. On average, we find that divorce is not associated with an increased probability of self-reported work limitations or receipt of disability benefits over the long run. However, among those who do not remarry, we do find that divorce increases men’s long-term probability of both self-reported work limitations and federal disability benefit receipt. Lack of marital resources may drive this relationship. Alternative estimates that do not control for selection into divorce demonstrate that selection bias can substantially alter findings regarding the relationship between marital status changes and subsequent health.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Age-related increases in SSDI benefit receipt could also be influenced by medical-vocational guidelines that account for age.
The divorce–health relationship and the mediating mechanisms may vary across outcomes and gender (Williams and Umberson 2004; Zhang and Hayward 2006). Men appear to derive more longevity gains from marriage than women (Brockmann and Klein 2004; Lillard and Waite 1995). Men benefit from the health regulation role of marriage more than women (Umberson 1992). Selection processes may be gendered (Teachman 2010).
For details on a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determination, see Wixon and Strand (2013).
For more details, see the Code of Federal Regulations on the SSA website (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-1563.htm and http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-1562.htm).
Potentially identifying information is removed from the linked data. The U.S. Census Bureau must approve all users. For researchers with access to these data, our programs are available upon request.
If a respondent is successfully matched, then that respondent is matched to all administrative files equally.
We estimated a logistic regression of a match across key characteristics. Using the results, we multiply the inverse of the match probability given the characteristics by SIPP person weights.
Estimates using analogous measures of earnings through the current year of data yield similar results.
Equivalized measures are common in studies of household well-being (Bayaz-Ozturk et al. 2014).
Alwin, D. F., & Wray, L. A. (2005). A life-span developmental perspective on social status and health. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60, S7–S14.
Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269–1287.
Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 650–666.
Amato, P. R., & Hohmann-Marriott, B. (2007). A comparison of high and low-distress marriages that end in divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 621–638.
Autor, D., & Duggan, M. (2006). The growth in the Social Security disability rolls: A fiscal crisis unfolding. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(3), 71–96.
Bachman, J. G., Wadsworth, K. N., O’Malley, P. M., Johnston, L. D., & Schulenberg, J. E. (1997). Smoking, drinking, and drug use in young adulthood: The impacts of new freedoms and new responsibilities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bayaz-Ozturk, G., Burkhauser, R. V., & Couch, K. A. (2014). Consolidating the evidence on income mobility in the western states of Germany and the United States from 1984 to 2006. Economic Inquiry, 52, 431–443.
Becker, S., & Ichino, A. (2002). Estimation of average treatment effects based on propensity scores. Stata Journal, 2, 358–377.
Benítez-Silva, H., Buchinsky, M., Man Chan, H., Cheidvasser, S., & Rust, J. (2004). How large is the bias in self-reported disability? Journal of Applied Econometrics, 19, 649–670.
Ben-Shlomo, Y., & Kuh, D. (2002). A life course approach to chronic disease epidemiology: Conceptual models, empirical challenges and interdisciplinary perspectives. International Journal of Epidemiology, 31, 285–293.
Blekesaune, M. (2008). Partnership transitions and mental distress: Investigating temporal order. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 879–890.
Blekesaune, M., & Barrett, A. E. (2005). Marital dissolution and work disability: A longitudinal study of administrative data. European Sociological Review, 21, 259–271.
Booth, A., & Amato, P. (1991). Divorce and psychological stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 32, 396–407.
Bound, J. (1991). Self-reported versus objective measures of health in retirement models. Journal of Human Resources, 26, 106–138.
Brockmann, H., & Klein, T. (2004). Love and death in Germany: The marital biography and its effect on mortality. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 567–581.
Burkhauser, R. V., Houtenville, A., & Tennant, J. (2013). Measuring the population with disabilities for policy analysis. In K. A. Couch, M. Daly, & J. Zissimopoulos (Eds.), Lifecycle events and their consequences: Job loss, family change, and declines in health (pp. 215–239). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Carr, D., & Springer, K. W. (2010). Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 743–761.
Cawley, J., & Ruhm, C. J. (2012). The economics of risky health behaviors. In T. G. McGuire, M. V. Pauly, & P. P. Barros (Eds.), Handbook of health economics (Vol. 2, pp. 95–199). New York, NY: Elsevier.
Chen, S., & van der Klaauw, W. (2008). The work disincentive effects of the Disability Insurance Program in the 1990s. Journal of Econometrics, 142, 757–784.
Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676–684.
Collins, R. L., Ellickson, P. L., & Klein, D. J. (2007). The role of substance use in young adult divorce. Addiction, 102, 786–794.
Corna, L. M. (2013). A life course perspective on socioeconomic inequalities in health: A critical review of conceptual frameworks. Advances in Life Course Research, 18, 150–159.
Couch, K. A., & Placzek, D. (2010). Earnings losses of displaced workers revisited. American Economic Review, 100(1), 572–589.
Couch, K. A., Jolly, N., & Placzek, D. (2009). Earnings losses of older displaced workers: A detailed analysis using administrative data. Research on Aging, 21, 17–40.
Couch, K. A., Jolly, N., & Placzek, D. (2011). Earnings losses of displaced workers and the business cycle. Economics Letters, 111, 16–19.
Couch, K. A., Reznik, G. L., Tamborini, C. R., & Iams, H. M. (2013). Economic and health implications of long-term unemployment: Earnings, disability benefits, and mortality. Research in Labor Economics, 38, 259–305.
Czajka, J. L., Mabli, J., & Cody, S. (2008). Sample loss and survey bias in estimates of social security beneficiaries: A tale of two surveys (Final Report, contract no. 0600-01-60121). Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Dannefer, D. (2003). Cumulative advantage/disadvantage and the life course: Cross-fertilizing age and social science theory. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58, S327–S337.
Davis, J. M., & Mazumder, B. (2011). An analysis of sample selection and the reliability of using short-term earnings averages in SIPP-SSA matched data (Center for Economic Studies Paper No. CES-WP-11-39). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Duncan, G., Wilkerson, B., & England, P. (2006). Cleaning up their act: The effects of marriage and cohabitation on licit and illicit drug use. Demography, 43, 691–710.
Dupre, M. E. (2007). Educational differences in age-related patterns of disease: Reconsidering the cumulative disadvantage and age-as-leveler hypotheses. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 1–15.
Dupre, M. E., Beck, A. N., & Meadows, S. O. (2009). Marital trajectories and mortality among US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 170, 546–555.
Elder, G. H., Jr., & Giele, J. Z. (2009). The craft of life course research. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Elder, G. H., Jr., Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 3–19). New York, NY: Springer.
Elo, I. T., Mehta, N. K., & Huang, C. (2011). Disability among native-born and foreign-born blacks in the United States. Demography, 48, 241–265.
Eriksen, W., Natvig, B., & Bruusgaard, D. (1999). Marital disruption and long-term work disability: A four-year prospective study. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 27, 196–202.
Fried, T. R., Bradley, E. H., Williams, C. S., & Tinetti, M. E. (2002). Functional disability and health care expenditures for older persons. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, 2602–2607.
Gardner, J., & Oswald, A. J. (2006). Do divorcing couples become happier by breaking up? Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A, 169, 319–336.
Goldman, N. (1993). Marriage selection and mortality patterns: Inferences and fallacies. Demography, 30, 189–208.
Green, K. M., Doherty, E. E., Fothergill, K. E., & Ensminger, M. E. (2012). Marriage trajectories and health risk behaviors throughout adulthood among urban African Americans. Journal of Family Issues, 33, 1595–1618.
Gruber, J., & Madrian, B. C. (1997). Employment separation and health insurance coverage. Journal of Public Economics, 66, 349–382.
Grundy, E., & Holt, G. (2000). Adult life experiences and health in early old age in Great Britain. Social Science & Medicine, 51, 1061–1074.
Halaby, C. N. (2004). Panel models in sociological research: Theory into practice. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 507–544.
Heller, T., & Harris, S. P. (2012). Disability through the life course. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
House, J. S., Lepkowski, J. M., Kinney, A. M., Mero, R. P., Kessler, R. C., & Herzog, A. R. (1994). The social stratification of aging and health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 213–234.
Hu, Y., & Goldman, N. (1990). Mortality differentials by marital status: An international comparison. Demography, 27, 233–250.
Hughes, M. H., & Waite, L. J. (2009). Marital biography and health at mid-life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50, 344–358.
Johnson, D. R., & Wu, J. (2002). An empirical test of crisis, social selection, and role explanations of the relationship between marital disruption and psychological distress: A pooled time-series analysis of four-wave panel data. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 211–224.
Joung, I. M., van de Mheen, H. D., Stronks, K., van Poppel, F. W., & Mackenbach, J. P. (1998). A longitudinal study of health selection in marital transitions. Social Science & Medicine, 46, 425–435.
Kapteyn, A., Smith, J. P., & Van Soest, A. (2011). Work disability, work, and justification bias in Europe and the United States. In D. A. Wise (Ed.), Explorations in the economics of aging (pp. 269–312). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Karraker, A., & Latham, K. (2015). In sickness and in health? Physical illness as a risk factor for marital dissolution in later life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56, 59–73.
Lavelle, B., & Smock, P. (2012). Divorce and women’s risk of health insurance loss. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53, 413–431.
Lillard, L. A., & Waite, L. J. (1995). ’Til death do us part: Marital disruption and mortality. American Journal of Sociology, 100, 1131–1156.
Liu, H. (2012). Marital dissolution and self-rated health: Age trajectories and birth cohort variations. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1107–1116.
Liu, H., & Zhang, Z. (2013). Disability trends by marital status among older Americans, 1997–2010: An examination by gender and race. Population Research and Policy Review, 32, 103–127.
Livermore, G., Whalen, D., & Stapleton, D. C. (2011). Assessing the need for a national disability survey: Final report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services & Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/reports/2011/NatlDS.pdf
Lorenz, F. O., Wickrama, K. A. S., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (2006). The short-term and decade-long effects of divorce on women’s midlife health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47, 111–125.
Marmot, M. (2002). The influence of income on health: The views of an epidemiologist. Health Affairs, 21, 31–46.
McManus, P. A., & DiPrete, T. A. (2001). Losers and winners: The financial consequences of divorce for men. American Sociological Review, 66, 246–268.
McNabb, J., Timmons, D., Song, J., & Puckett, C. (2009). Uses of administrative data at the Social Security Administration. Social Security Bulletin, 69, 75–84.
Mitchell, O. S., & Phillips, J. W. R. (2001). Eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (Pension Research Council Working Paper No. 2001–11). Philadelphia, PA: Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Molloy, G. J., Stamatakis, E., Randall, G., & Hamer, M. (2009). Marital status, gender and cardiovascular mortality: Behavioural, psychological distress and metabolic explanations. Social Science & Medicine, 69, 223–228.
Murray, J. E. (2000). Marital protection and marital selection: Evidence from a historical-prospective sample of American men. Demography, 37, 511–521.
O’Rand, A. M. (1996). The precious and the precocious: Understanding cumulative disadvantage and cumulative advantage over the life course. Gerontologist, 36, 230–238.
O’Rand, A. M., & Hamil-Luker, J. (2005). Processes of cumulative adversity linking childhood disadvantage to increased risk of heart attack across the life course. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60, S117–S124.
Peters, H. E., Simon, K., & Taber, J. R. (2014). Marital disruption and health insurance. Demography, 51, 1397–1421.
Pienta, A. M., Hayward, M. D., & Jenkins, K. R. (2000). Health consequences of marriage for the retirement years. Journal of Family Issues, 21, 559–586.
Rendall, M. S., Weden, M. M., Favreault, M. M., & Waldron, H. (2011). The protective effect of marriage for survival: A review and update. Demography, 48, 481–506.
Reville, R. T., Bhattacharya, J., & Sager Weinstein, L. R. (2001). New methods and data sources for measuring economic consequences of workplace injuries. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 40, 452–463.
Rupp, K., & Davies, P. S. (2004). A long-term view of health status, disabilities, mortality, and participation in the DI and SSI Disability Programs. Research in Labor Economics, 23, 119–183.
Rupp, K., Davies, P. S., & Strand, A. (2008). Disability benefit coverage and program interactions in the working-age population. Social Security Bulletin, 68(1), 1–30.
Rupp, K., & Riley, G. F. (2011). Longitudinal patterns of participation in the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs for people with disabilities. Social Security Bulletin, 71(2), 25–51.
Shor, E., Roelfs, D. J., Bugyi, P., & Schwartz, J. E. (2012). Meta-analysis of marital dissolution and mortality: Reevaluating the intersection of gender and age. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 46–59.
Singleton, P. (2012). Insult to injury disability, earnings, and divorce. Journal of Human Resources, 47, 972–990.
Social Security Administration (SSA). (2014). Annual statistical report on the Social Security Disability Insurance program, 2013. Washington, DC: Office of Retirement and Disability.
Stock, J. H., & Watson, M. W. (2008). Heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors for fixed effects panel data regression. Econometrica, 76, 155–174.
Subramanyam, M., Kawachi, I., Berkman, L., & Subramanian, S. V. (2009). Relative deprivation in income and self-rated health in the United States. Social Science & Medicine, 69, 327–334.
Taylor, S. E., Repetti, R. L., & Seeman, T. (1997). Health psychology: What is an unhealthy environment and how does it get under the skin? Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 411–447.
Teachman, J. (2010). Work-related health limitations, education, and the risk of marital disruption. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 919–932.
Teachman, J. (2013). Body weight, marital status, and changes in marital status. Journal of Family Issues. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0192513X13508404.
Umberson, D. (1992). Gender, marital status, and the social control of health behavior. Social Science & Medicine, 34, 907–917.
Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51, 54–66.
von Wachter, T., Song, J., & Manchester, J. (2011). Trends in employment and earnings of allowed and rejected applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance program. American Economic Review, 101, 3308–3329.
Wade, T. J., & Pevalin, D. J. (2004). Marital transitions and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45, 155–170.
Waite, L. J. (1995). Does marriage matter? Demography, 32, 483–508.
Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Williams, K. (2004). The transition to widowhood and the social regulation of health: Consequences for health and health risk behavior. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 59, S343–S349.
Williams, K., & Umberson, D. (2004). Marital status, marital transitions, and health: A gendered life course perspective. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45, 81–98.
Willson, A. E., Shuey, K. M., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (2007). Cumulative advantage processes as mechanisms of inequality in life course health. American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1886–1924.
Wixon, B., & Strand, A. (2013). Identifying SSA’s sequential disability determination steps using administrative data (Research and Statistics Note No. 2013-01). Washington, DC: Social Security Administration.
Wood, R. G., Goesling, B., & Avellar, S. (2007). The effects of marriage on health: A synthesis of recent research evidence. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/marriageonhealth/index.htm
Zhang, Z., & Hayward, M. (2006). Gender, the marital life course, and cardiovascular diseases in late midlife. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 639–657.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Social Security Administration (SSA) or any federal agency. The administrative data used in this article are restricted-use and undergo disclosure review before their release. For researchers with access to these data, our programs used in this analysis are available upon request. Kenneth Couch was an IPA (Intergovernmental Personnel Act) scholar at the U.S. Social Security Administration while working on this article. We thank the Editor and the anonymous reviewers of Demography for helpful comments. Thanks also to Lynn Fisher, Kevin Whitman, Manasi Deshpande, Lakshmi Raut, and seminar participants at Cornell and Yale Universities for providing useful comments. All remaining errors are our own.
About this article
Cite this article
Couch, K.A., Tamborini, C.R. & Reznik, G.L. The Long-Term Health Implications of Marital Disruption: Divorce, Work Limits, and Social Security Disability Benefits Among Men. Demography 52, 1487–1512 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-015-0424-z
- Work Disability
- Social Security