WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Women are more likely than men to be admitted to a nursing home because they're often married to older men who can't provide care at home due to age-related physical problems, a new study finds.

Researchers in Northern Ireland analyzed data on more than 20,000 people who were at least 65 years old and living with a partner in a two-person household in 2001. Of these people, 45 percent were female, 31 percent were aged 75 and older, and 47 percent had a chronic illness.

On average, women were five years younger than their male partners. Ill health increased with age for both men and women, but women had sicker partners at all ages, except for those 85 and older.

Overall, women were 40 percent more likely than men to be admitted to a nursing home. But once the age of their partner was taken into account, women were no more likely than men to be admitted.

The study appeared April 17 in the journal Age and Aging.

The findings show that "the higher admission risk for women in comparison to men appears to be due primarily to the differences in the age and frailty of their partners," study author Mark McCann said in a journal news release. "This research has gone some way to debunking the myth that older men do not want to care for their partners."

"Age differences between partners are evident in most societies, so it is important that issues raised in this paper are considered in future health planning," McCann added. "The projected narrowing of the gap in life expectancy between men and women may mean that there are more men around to provide such support in future years."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about nursing homes.