People living in some arrangements show better health than persons in other living arrangements. Recent prospective studies document higher mortality among persons living in particular types of households. We extend this research by examining the influence of household structure on health using longitudinal data. We theorize that individuals experience role-based household relations as sets of resources and demands. In certain household structures, individuals are more likely to perceive that the demands made on them outweigh the resources available to them. This perceived imbalance poses a risk to individual health. We test our expectations by analyzing the relationship between living arrangements and health using data from waves 1 and 2 of the Health and Retirement Study We focus on persons ages 51-61 and explore gender differences. We find prospective links between household structure and self-rated health, mobility limitation, and depressive symptoms. Married couples living alone or with children only are the most advantaged; single women living with children appear disadvantaged on all health outcomes. Men and women in other household types are disadvantaged on some health outcomes. Our results suggest that the social context formed by the household may be important to the social etiology of health. In addition, they qualify the well-known link between marital status and health: The effect of marital status on health depends on household context.
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