Marital Dissolutions and Changes in Mental Health: Evidence from Rural Malawi

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Family demographers conducting research in high-income countries have long examined the link between multiple dimensions of marital dissolutions—including discrete events and marital histories—and adverse health outcomes. Research on the relationship between marital dissolutions, marital histories, and health among older adults in sub-Saharan Africa is comparatively limited, and less empirically developed, despite marriage being a paramount cultural and life-course marker on the African continent. Using fixed-effects regressions and 2012 data from the Mature Adults Cohort of the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH-MAC) linked back to cohort information from 2008 and 2010 available through MLSFH, we test how changes in different dimensions of marital dissolutions are associated with changes in mental health among nearly 1200 respondents, in addition to the potential moderating effects of household savings and region of residence. For men, spending more of one’s life outside of marriage is associated with worse mental health, while more marital dissolutions are surprisingly linked to better mental health for women.