Serial marriages linked with earlier death

Carolyn Moynihan
16 Aug 2010
Reproduced with Permission

While increasing numbers of people find it difficult -- or unimportant -- to achieve marriage, there are others who marry more than once. A third marriage, however, may signpost an early grave.

In general, married people enjoy better health than those who are divorced or unmarried. But a study of 9000 people born between 1931 and 1941 shows that people who had married at least three times were 34 per cent more likely to die at any given time after the age of 50 than those who had married once.

The Daily Mail (which jumped on a story that provided an opportunity to show pictures of much-married film star Tom Cruise and his wives -- and we have followed suit) reports:

It isn't entirely clear why. But it may be related to the stress of break-ups, divorces or the death of a spouse.

It is also possible that those who fail to take care of their marriage also fail to take care of their health.

For instance, those with multiple marriages were also more likely to smoke. It might be that the stress of the break-up led them to take up smoking, or that those in a stable marriage are more likely to quit.

Researcher John Henretta, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, said: 'Some personality characteristic, for example conscientiousness, might lead someone to be a better spouse and engage in positive health behaviours.'

Looking around for more information I came across a report by Statistics Canada based on a 2001 social survey. That data showed that people who had married three times (hardly any had married more) represented less than 1 per cent of the ever-married population aged 25 and over. Socio-demographically there was "nothing much" to distinguish them from other married Canadians. It seemed to come down to personality and behaviour factors again. Also:

A 1990 U.S. study specifically of serial marriers agreed that both men and women married multiple times have higher levels of anxiety than those married only once or twice; multiply-married women also reported more psychological distress than other married women, even after controlling for their divorce history.


Serial marriers are significantly less likely to claim that being married is important or very important to their happiness, at 69% versus 82% of people who married only once (including those divorced or widowed as well as those still married)…

But, predictably:

Similarly, serial marriers are almost twice as likely to say they would not stay in a bad marriage even for the sake of their children (50% compared with 28% of once-marrieds)…

There is some very interesting material about marriage in the Canadian report, even though the data are a few years old.