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The Long-Term Health Implications of Marital Disruption: Divorce, Work Limits, and Social Security Disability Benefits Among Men

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Age-related increases in SSDI benefit receipt could also be influenced by medical-vocational guidelines that account for age.

  2. 2.

    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).

  3. 3.

    For details on a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determination, see Wixon and Strand (2013).

  4. 4.

    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).

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    If a respondent is successfully matched, then that respondent is matched to all administrative files equally.

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    Additional examples from the job displacement literature include Couch et al. (2009), Couch and Placzek (2010), and Couch et al. (2011).

  9. 9.

    Estimates using analogous measures of earnings through the current year of data yield similar results.

  10. 10.

    Equivalized measures are common in studies of household well-being (Bayaz-Ozturk et al. 2014).

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Acknowledgments

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.

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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

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Keywords

  • Divorce
  • Work Disability
  • Social Security
  • Health
  • Remarriage