If both spouses were diagnosed with a neurological disorder, the risk of divorce was already 1.38 times higher.


A recent study from the University of Helsinki has unveiled that neurological disorders significantly elevate the risk of divorce among couples in the Nordic countries, with the highest risk observed in couples where both partners are diagnosed with such conditions. The research, which tracked over 2.8 million married individuals aged 30 to 64 from Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, found that 12% of these couples divorced within a ten-year follow-up period.

Interestingly, the study revealed that the husband's illness increases the divorce risk at least as much as the wife's, regardless of the couple's education level. Over the course of the study, more than one-fifth of the couples experienced a neurological disorder, determined through specialist healthcare visits.

Combined data from all countries showed that the risk of divorce after a wife's diagnosis was 1.21 times higher, and 1.27 times higher following a husband's diagnosis, compared to couples without such health issues. If both spouses were diagnosed with a neurological condition, the risk of divorce rose to 1.38 times higher, marking these differences as significant.

According to Niina Metsä-Simola, a university lecturer in demography at the University of Helsinki, the findings indicate that couples facing illness require additional support, even in the well-established welfare states of the Nordic region.

The study also explored how income explains the link between illness and divorce risk, finding that this was only significant in Sweden. Metsä-Simola explains that in Sweden, access to specialist care is easier, but income drops more during short illness periods compared to the other countries studied. Traditionally, men's illness was thought to increase divorce risk more significantly due to their larger financial contribution to the family. However, the study found that in Sweden, the sick spouse's gender did not impact the risk of divorce.

Particularly in Finland, a man's illness raised the risk of divorce more when he had a lower education level than his wife, a trend not observed in the other countries. This could be attributed to Finland's larger gender pay gap and gendered division of parental leave, highlighting the man's role as the family's breadwinner.

Denmark showed a unique pattern where a husband's illness resulted in a 1.4 times higher risk of divorce, compared to a 1.2 times increase following a wife's illness. This discrepancy might be influenced by the lower detection of neurological disorders in Danish couples compared to the other countries. The most common diagnosis among men was organic sleep disorders, particularly prevalent in Finland and Norway.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggests that diseases like MS, which can cause significant functional impairment, seem to increase the risk of divorce more following the husband's diagnosis. This finding was especially pronounced in Denmark.

Lack of detailed diagnostic information in Sweden and limitations in assessing functional capacity and disease severity in registry-based research were noted as constraints. Metsä-Simola emphasizes the importance of further exploring how functional capacity relates to the risk of divorce, suggesting that it could shed light on the mechanisms linking illness to marital dissolution.