Marital loss and risk of dementia: Do race and gender matter?

Zhenmei Zhang, Hui Liu, Seung won Emily Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Recent studies have found that marital loss through divorce or widowhood is associated with a higher risk of dementia for older adults. However, whether these associations vary by race and gender is less clear. To address this gap, we drew upon longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (2000–2016) to investigate the association between marital loss and dementia risk, separately for non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks. We further examined gender variations in the link between marital loss and dementia risk within each racial group. Results from discrete-time event history models suggested that widowhood is significantly associated with a higher risk of dementia for both Whites and Blacks, controlling for basic demographic characteristics. However, while divorce is significantly associated with a higher risk of dementia for Blacks, the association is marginally significant (p < 0.1) for Whites. There are few significant gender variations in these associations except for the effect of divorce among Whites. Even after controlling for economic and health-related factors, we found that divorce is associated with a higher risk of dementia among White men but not among White women. Economic resources explain a significant portion of the association between widowhood and dementia risk, more so for Whites than for Blacks. Our findings call for more research into the pathways through which marital loss shapes the risk of dementia across racial and ethnic groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113808
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume275
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • Dementia
  • Divorce
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Race
  • United States
  • Widowhood

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