Beginning or ending a marriage can take a toll on your waistline, a new study says, although during what stage an individual experiences weight gain depends on gender.

Women are more likely to pack on the pounds after they get married, while men typically gain weight following divorce, according to a study by researchers at Ohio State University, who presented the results at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The chance of a large weight gain after marriage or divorce was highest for people over age 30, the study showed. To come to their conclusion, a team of researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth '79, a nationally representative sample of men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979. The same people were surveyed each year up until 1994, and every other year since then.  

In this study, researchers used data on 10,071 people surveyed from 1986 to 2008 to determine weight gain in the two years following marriage and divorce. Even when taking into account a wide variety of factors that could influence weight gain - such as poverty, education and pregnancy for women - researchers discovered that both men and women who had been either married or divorced were more likely to experience small weight gain - defined as between 7 and 20 pounds - in the two years following a marital transition than their never-married counterparts.

For most people, the weight gain we see after a marital transition is relatively small, not something we would see as a serious health threat, said Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student of sociology at Ohio State University who was the lead author of the study.

About 10 to 15 percent of participants gained a large amount of weight, defined as over 20 pounds, after a marriage, while 10 percent actually shed some pounds after divorce. In particular, women were 46 percent more likely to gain a considerable amount of weight following a marriage then unmarried ladies, while the study found that men did not have an increased chance of weight gain.

Both men and women were more likely to experience a significant weight gain following a marital transition if they were over the age of 30, a risk that increased in older participants.

Although the researchers did not collect data to explain the reasoning behind their findings, Zhenchao Qian, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, hypothesized said married women may gain weight because they often have a larger role around the house and consequently, less time for exercise.

Moreover, Qian said previous studies have shown that men get a health benefit from marriage, which explains why they would suddenly gain weight once the union dissolves. For example, a study released earlier this month found that the risk of death for single men was 32 percent higher across a lifetime compared to married men.

All in all, Tumin said older adults are probably more likely to experience these weight shocks because people tend to settled into certain patterns of physical activity and diet over time.

As you get older, having a sudden change in your life like a marriage or a divorce is a bigger shock than it would have been when you were younger, and that can really impact your weight, he said.