Living alone and psychological well-being in late mid-life: does partnership history matter?

Dieter Demey, ESRC Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton

Dieter Demey

Co Authors
Ann Berrington, Maria Evandrou, Jane Falkingham

There is strong empirical evidence that psychological well-being deteriorates in a relatively short period surrounding a union dissolution, but also that experiencing multiple union transitions can have longer lasting consequences for psychological well-being. However, previous studies have rarely jointly considered the duration since the most recent union dissolution and the number of union transitions. Furthermore, most studies have focussed on marriage breakdown. Increasingly, partnership dissolution results from the breakdown of cohabiting partnerships and this should be taken into consideration in studies on psychological well-being and partnership characteristics. This study uses data from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS) to investigate how the time since the most recent union dissolution and the number of union dissolutions are related to two indicators of psychological well-being, namely dissatisfaction with life and GHQ-12 caseness. The sample is restricted to 50-64 year old British men and women who are living alone and have ever been in a co-residential union (including cohabiting and marital unions). We focus on adults living alone in late mid-life as this is an increasingly common living arrangement in this age group and because their partnership histories are very diverse, with a considerable proportion having re-partnered at least once. Preliminary findings show lower psychological well-being in the two years following a union dissolution. Furthermore, psychological well-being is also lower for those who have experienced multiple union dissolutions. These findings are reported for both men and women, and remain unaltered when controlling for age, parenthood status and socio-economic status. However, the findings differ for the two measures of psychological well-being. These findings indicate that several aspects of partnership history are related to psychological well-being. Our approach also demonstrates that partnership dissolution is associated with lower well-being in the longer term.