March 09, 2023 | Press Release
US Health: Women over 50 Spend More Time Without a Partner and Cognitively Impaired than Men
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A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany and the University of St Andrews in Scotland estimates how long a 50-year old person in the US is going to live without a partner and/or be cognitively impaired. In their paper recently published in “Population Studies” the researchers find disparities of up to 10 years both between men and women and ethnic groups.
Living without a partner at older ages makes one lose an essential component of care, social support, and successful aging. “Our study is the first to examine how long a 50-year-old woman or man in the US can expect to live without a partner and/or be cognitively impaired”, says Shubhankar Sharma, PhD Student at the MPIDR and the University of St Andrews.
Together with his co-authors, he finds that men in the US can expect to live 7.5 years without a partner out of their average remaining life expectancy of 28.3 years at age 50. Women, with a life expectancy of 33.0 years at age 50 can expect to live without a partner for 17.4 years. Thus, women spend a decade longer without a partner than men.
Black women face 5 years more without a partner than White women
In a second step the researchers examined socio-demographic disparities. Black men can expect to live about 11 years without a partner at age 50. Black women expect to live 22 years without a partner. And while the remaining life expectancy of Black women and men is lower than the average life expectancy, they face more years without a partner. For Black men that is about four years longer than White men, while Black women spend five years more without a partner than White.
When it comes to cognitive impairment, the researchers find that, on average, women live two more years cognitively impaired and without a partner than men. Black and Latinx women live two times longer with cognitive impairment and without a partner than White women, and all women without a high school education live five years longer with cognitive impairment and without a partner.
The researchers applied innovative multistate models to US Health and Retirement Study data from 1998 to 2016 to arrive at their findings. The study is a US-based nationally representative longitudinal survey of adults aged 50 and over.
Being cognitively impaired and unpartnered can be a substantial disadvantage
Alongside population aging, cognitive impairment has become a major public health concern in the US. A majority of cognitively impaired adults are cared for informally, in part due to the substantial cost associated with formal care within the healthcare system. Partners constitute an important source of informal caregiving, and they are also an essential component of emotional support. Consequently, being cognitively impaired and unpartnered can be a substantial disadvantage.
“Therefore, we conclude that women, Blacks, Latinx, and adults with less than a high school education need more access to intervention programs. That includes, for example, more in-home care support”, says Shubhankar Sharma.
Sharma, S., Hale, J.M., Myrskylä, M., Kulu, H.: Cognitive impairment and partnership status in the United States, 1998–2016, by sex, race/ethnicity, and education. Population Studies (2023) DOI: 10.1080/00324728.2023.2174267
Authors and Affiliations
Shubhankar Sharma, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock; University of St Andrews
Jo Mhairi Hale, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock; University of St Andrews
Mikko Myrskylä, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock; University of Helsinki
Hill Kulu, University of St Andrews