Post-Divorce Deaths

There has long been a belief that divorce or partnership dissolution is significantly implicated in excess deaths of men. Hard data to confirm or refute this belief is difficult to come by. However, an article published in The Sunday Express on 4th January 2015 reports the results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act enquiry addressed to the Department for Work and Pensions. It read,

“Data shows that parents who leave their children are almost three times more likely to die early. It was unearthed by Sunday Express staff who compared the number of Child Support Agency (CSA) cases closed after “nonresident” parents died with cases closed due to the death of the “parent with care”. The figures show that since June 2003, 8,515 non-resident parents have died compared to 3,090 residents. According to the information released under the FOI, 94.8 per cent of CSA cases involved a male nonresident parent.”

Some deaths are bound to occur when dealing with very large numbers of people. But the significant feature is the excess of 5,425 deaths of non-resident parents over resident parents. To 95% accuracy, this means an excess of 5,425 deaths of fathers over mothers, i.e., an excess of 175%. This is 12 times greater than the number of UK forces deaths in Afghanistan (30 times that in Iraq). Matt O’Connor, founder of Fathers4Justice, has commented that these figures demonstrate the lack of concern for the welfare of Britain’s fathers. He has called for a full scale inquiry into these figures to uncover the truth behind them. It is worth noting how small is the number of partner homicides in comparison (of the order of 100, see Homicide).

However, caution should be exercised in assuming all the excess male deaths are caused by the partnership dissolution. In particular, it is clear from the overall death statistics (Comparative Longevity and Excess Male Deaths) that substantially more male deaths than female deaths would be expected anyway – simply for being male. However the excess would have been expected to be roughly 44% – 69% in the likely age range, so an excess of 175% does seem to indicate an additional effect of partnership dissolution. Moreover, the very high rate of partnership dissolutions raises the possibility that the 44% – 69% elevation of male deaths in the general population is, in fact, almost all related, indirectly, to partnership dissolution.

More academic research is required to clarify these important issues. Some is beginning to emerge. From the USA the paper The Influence of Divorce on Men’s Health by Daniel Felix and co-workers has shown that divorced men have mortality rates up to 250 percent higher than married men. The causes of premature death for divorced men include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and partaking in risky activities such as abusing alcohol and drugs.

The researchers found that depression is also more common for divorced men than married men, and divorced men undergo psychiatric care 10 times more often than do married men.  They found that divorced or separated men have a suicide rate that is 39 percent higher than that of married men.

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