WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Is divorce contagious? A new study finds divorce rates for older couples rise when the wife becomes seriously ill, but not when the husband is sick, reports LiveScience.

Researchers at the University of Michigan looked at how marriages were affected by four serious illnesses: cancer, heart disease, lung disease and stroke.

They studied 20 years of data for nearly 3,000 couples, at least one of whom was over the age of 50.

31 percent of all marriages ended in divorce during the period of the study. In 15 percent of cases, the wife in the couple had become sick.

Study researcher Amellia Karraker told LiveScience, “if women become ill, they are more likely to get divorces.

Over time, more husbands than wives developed serious health problems.

The study did not try to answer why divorce was more likely when the wives, but not the husbands, become seriously ill.

Previous research has shown wives are more typically the ones who initiate divorce.

“When women fall ill, it could be that their husbands are not adequately fulfilling the role of caregiver. As a result, they are more likely to rely on friends and family members to care for them,” said Karraker.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America.

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