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Women Gain Weight After Marriage, Men After Divorce

marriage, divorce and weight

A change in marital status not only affects your tax status, it also impacts weight gain and it differs between women and men. An Ohio State University study found that women tend toward big weight gains after marriage, while men tend to pack on pounds after a divorce.

Large weight gains seen most in people past age 30

The researchers used data from 10,071 people who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth ’79, which took a representative sample of men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979. These individuals were surveyed yearly up to 1994 and subsequently every other year.

For this study, the researchers were interested in the amount of weight gained in the two years following a marriage or divorce. Factors such as pregnancy, poverty, education, and socioeconomic status were considered.

The people were grouped according to the amount of weight gained or lost following a marital change: those with a body mass index (BMI) decline of at least 7 pounds, those who gained 7 to 20 pounds, those who gained more than 21 pounds, and those who had no weight gain or loss (net change of less than 7 lbs).

Overall, the researchers found that the probability of men and women gaining a large amount of weight following marriage or divorce increased the most for people older than 30. According to Zhenchao Qian, professor of sociology at Ohio State University and one of the study’s authors, “both marriages and divorces increase the risk of weight changes from about age 30 to 50, and the effect is stronger at later ages.”

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One possible explanation for the larger amount of weight gain as people age is lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet. Dmitry Tumin, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in sociology, noted that “as you get older, having a sudden change in your life like a marriage or a divorce is a bigger shock than it would have been when you were younger, and that can really impact your weight.”

Although this study did not uncover the reasons for the differences in weight gain between men and women and their marital status changes, Qian suggested that “married women often have a larger role around the house than men do,” which gives them less time to devote to exercise and staying fit.

This idea is supported by the results of a new study published in Social Science & Medicine, which looked at the frequency of physical activity among working men and women. Investigators found that having dependent children had a large negative effect on exercise activity for women.

The results of the study on weight gain associated with marriage and divorce were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas on August 22.

Brown H, Roberts J. Social Science & Medicine 2011 Aug; 73(3): 383-90
Ohio State University news release

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons