Type of Publication: Article in Collected Edition

In Sickness and in Health? Dynamics of Health, Cohabitation in United Kingdom

Martin Karlsson, Les Mayhew; Rickayzen, Ben
Dawson, Sandra; Morris, Zoë Slote
Title of Anthology:
Future Public Health: Burdens, Challenges and Opportunities
Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Date:
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The purpose of this paper is to analyse the dynamics of cohabitation and functional impairments among older people. Our research has three main aims. Firstly, we want to analyse the effects of cohabitation on disability. Secondly, we want to study time trends in disability and cohabitation jointly to explore relationships between the two. Thirdly, we examine socioeconomic differences -- as captured by educational attainment -- in disability.

These issues are of great interest from several points of view. Firstly, they address an emerging theoretical debate concerning the effects of cohabitation on health and contribute to a sparse empirical literature on the topic. Secondly, our findings are highly policy relevant. Concerning long-term care for older people, for example, cohabitation is of double importance: firstly, since people who cohabit tend to be healthier, and secondly, since a partner is the typical provider of informal care. In a time where family structures among the old are likely to change (due to changes in life expectancy and divorce rates), our research will be useful for planning purposes. Finally, the model can be used to simulate populations of certain characteristics. Hence, it can be used to derive insurance premiums in order to reduce the problem of selection effects in the market for long-term care insurance.

Using the British Household Panel Survey dataset, we apply panel data and simulation techniques to exploit the longitudinal characteristic of the panel. We estimate the two dependent variables -- cohabitation status and disability -- jointly, and allow for time trends, age effects and unobserved heterogeneity.

We find that there are systematic differences between single and cohabiting people so that a cross sectional analysis would overestimate the causal relationship; nevertheless, cohabitation has a strong and positive effect on health. Furthermore, we find that bereavement of a partner has a significant negative impact on health.