Because people tend to marry social equals – and possibly also because partners affect each other's health – the social position of one partner is associated with the other partner's health and mortality. Although this link is fairly well established, the underlying mechanisms are not fully identified. Analyzing disease incidence and survival separately may help us to assess when in the course of the disease a partner's resources are of most significance. This article addresses the importance of partner's education, income, employment status, and health for incidence and survival in two major causes of death: cancer and cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Based on a sample of Finnish middle-aged and older couples (around 200,000 individuals) we show that a partner's education is more often connected to incidence than to survival, in particular for CVD. Once ill, any direct effect of partner's education seems to decline: The survival chances after being hospitalized for cancer or CVD are rather associated with partner's employment status and/or income level when other individual and partner factors are adjusted for. In addition, a partner's history of poor health predicted higher CVD incidence and, for women, lower cancer survival. The findings suggest that various partner's characteristics may have different implications for disease and survival, respectively. A wider focus on social determinants of health at the household level, including partner's social resources, is needed.
- Marital/cohabiting partners