According to findings in a new study, women who were told they had a serious illness were seven times as likely to become separated or divorced as men with similar health problems. The study collected data on 515 patients who received diagnoses of brain tumors or multiple sclerosis from 2001 through 2006 and found that when the man became ill, only 3 percent experienced the end of a marriage. Among women, about 21 percent ended up separated or divorced. Among couples who split up, divorce occurred, on average, about six months after the diagnosis, although there was wide variability in the timing. On the plus side, the study did find that couples who had been married longer were less likely to break up after a cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Marc Chamberlain, a Seattle oncologist, began working on the study after he noticed this pattern when treating patients and wanted to see if the numbers backed his observation. Unfortunately, his hunch was right. He points out in this New York Times article
that the study did not identify if the illness prompted the seperation or if marital problems were already brewing. The article says, "if couples are happy before the diagnosis, it appears that men are more likely to abandon wives who become seriously ill. If couples are already troubled before a partner becomes ill, the finding suggests that women in unhappy marriages are less likely to proceed with a divorce if their husbands become ill." No matter how you slice it, the numbers don't paint men in a chivalrous light.