Divorcees may be living on the edge without knowing it. In a new study from Rice University and the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have discovered that divorced people are twice as likely to die from preventable causes of death compared to their married peers. The findings may encourage further inquiry into socioeconomic factors influencing risk-taking and accidental death.

Published in the journal Social Science Research, the study sought to determine whether a person’s social status has any bearing on their risk of dying from preventable causes like fire, poisoning, and smoke inhalation. To do this, the authors reviewed fatality and wellness statistics from 1.3 million individuals compiled by the National Health Interview Survey between 1986 and 2006. They also used the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Injuries, and Causes of Death to assess the preventability of each death.

The researchers found that divorcees and single people were twice as likely to die from preventable accidents compared to married people. The relationship was the same for accidents considered to be the least preventable, such as plane crashes and water transportation accidents. The heightened risk appeared to be more pronounced among people with less education.

According to the researchers, the strange phenomenon suggests that there may be a link between socioeconomic status and risk assessment. "Well-educated individuals, on average, have greater socio-economic resources, which can be used to their advantage to prevent accidental death (i.e., safeguarding a home from fire)," said Justin Denney, associate director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research's Urban Health Program and lead author of the study. "In addition, these individuals tend to be more knowledgeable about practices that may harm their health, such as excessive alcohol and drug use.”

“And marital status is influential in that it can provide positive support, may discourage a partner's risk and offer immediate support that saves lives in the event of an emergency," he added.

In the end, the lower risk of preventable death among married couples may be explained with Linus’ Law – the iconic software development principle that holds that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” In other words, a solvable problem will necessarily be solved once enough people are introduced to it. From this, it stands to reason that as more eyes hunt for accidents waiting to happen, the risk of falling victim to them diminishes.

Source: Justin T. Denney, Monica He. The Social Side of Accidental Death. Social Science Research, Volume 43, January 2014, Pages 92-107.