Forty years of follow-up data from the Charleston Heart Study (CHS) were used to examine the risk for early mortality associated with marital separation or divorce in a sample of more than 1,300 adults assessed on several occasions between 1960 and 2000. Participants who were separated or divorced at the start of the study evidenced significantly elevated rates of early mortality, and these results held after adjusting for baseline health status and other demographic variables. Being separated or divorced throughout the CHS follow-up window was one of the strongest predictors of early mortality. However, the excess mortality risk associated with separation or divorce was completely eliminated when participants who had ever experienced a marital separation or divorce during the study were compared with all other participants. These findings suggest that a key predictor of early death is the amount of time people live as separated or divorced. It is possible that the mortality risk conferred by marital dissolution is due to dimensions of personality that predict divorce as well as a decreased likelihood of future remarriage.
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