MARITAL STATUS, NATION MARITAL STATUS COMPOSITION, AND SELF-ASSESSED HEALTH A multilevel test of four hypotheses in 29 European countries

Tim Huijts*, Gerbert Kraaykamp

*Corresponding author for this work

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This study examines to what extent the often found association between marital status and self-assessed health is influenced by the marital composition of the country people live in. Four hypotheses explaining why the national marital status composition may be influential are derived and tested. Whereas earlier research in this field solely focused on divorce rates, this study includes six different indicators of the national marital status composition to provide a comprehensive test of our expectations. We employ data on 29 European countries (European Social Survey 2002, 2004, and 2006, N=97,797). Multilevel regression analyses demonstrate that both the strength of the relationship between marital status and health, and which unmarried group is most disadvantaged, vary across European countries. Living in a country with a high proportion of married people appears to be beneficial to the health of never married persons, but detrimental for widowed people. Additionally, our findings contradict the argument that divorced, widowed, and never married persons may be best off when living in countries with high proportions of people who are in the same situation. Finally, our results show that the never married are worst off in countries with a high proportion of cohabitants. This may reflect stronger health selectivity into cohabitation in countries where cohabitation is more common. We conclude that the ways through which the marital status composition influences the association between marital status and health appear to be complex and highly dependent on the exact marital status groups that are examined.
Original languageEnglish
Article number934172638
Pages (from-to)279-305
Number of pages27
JournalEuropean Societies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • health
  • marital status
  • Europe
  • multilevel analysis
  • SEX

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