MONDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Getting divorced at a younger age causes more harm to health than getting divorced later in life, perhaps because older people have more coping skills to deal with the stress of divorce, a new study suggests.

Michigan State University sociologist Hui Liu analyzed the self-reported health of 1,282 people who took part in a long-term national survey called Americans' Changing Lives. She compared the health status of people who remained married during the 15-year study period and those who got divorced.

Among people born in the 1950s, those who got divorced between ages 35 and 41 had more health problems than those who got divorced between the ages of 44 and 50. Both groups had more health problems than those who remained married.

From a generational viewpoint, baby boomers experienced a stronger negative health impact from divorce than older generations. The finding surprised Liu.

"I would have expected divorce to carry less stress for the younger generation, since divorce is more prevalent for them," Liu said in a university news release.

Because the pressure to marry and stay married was stronger for older generations, those who did divorce may have been among the most unhappily married and felt some relief when the marriage ended, Liu suggested.

Overall, people who divorced during the study period experienced a more rapid health decline than those who stayed married. But the health of people who remained divorced for the entire study period was no different than that of those who stayed married.

"This suggests it is not the status of being married or divorced, per se, that affects health, but instead is the process of transitioning from marriage to divorce that is stressful and hurts health," Liu said.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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