9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN16 Sociology of Health and Illness

"Is separation always a reasonable action? Exploring the link between marital quality, divorce and mental health"

Research on divorce or separation and mental health has, until now, mainly focused on the mediating impact of stressors and moderators ex-partners face after the brake-up. Problems of financial hardship, loneliness, and diminished social networks lead most researchers to conclude that being divorced means being worst off. But is separation always an (in)reasonable action? Because, if so, why do people divorce anyway? In this paper we try to make a more nuanced picture by, first, investigating the mediating impact of (prior) marital quality in the relation between marital status and mental health. For it is reasonable that being divorced might mean being better off for people in high conflict relationships. Second, we also want to clear out the link between mental health, (prior) marital quality, and professional health care seeking: Do people who saw a good marriage end seek more often professional care than people who have terminated a less harmonious marriage? And why? Research on marital status and professional service use is only in its preliminary phase and often limited to sociographic descriptions. This study is a first attempt to look more into depth which factors facilitate or hamper effective use by those who need it, and why.

We use the data of "Scheiding in Nederland" (SIN - Divorce in the Netherlands). 906 men and 1253 women were selected following two criteria: they had to be married/cohabiting or divorced/separated, and aged 28-65years. Feelings of depression was measured using the CES-D20. Gender specific analyses were carried out, and all analyses were done using multiple regression analysis within SPSS-15. First results indicate that the divorced do have an overall weaker mental health than the married or cohabiting, but that there are substantive differences within both groups. Further analyses question the impact of differences in (prior) marital quality, and the link with professional care seeking: Do people who live(d) in less harmonious relationships seek more or less often help than people who live(d) in a more harmonious marriage? What kind of help is generally sought? And are there gender differences in this? Results are discussed.