What's Love Got To Do With It? Marital Quality and Mental Health in Older Age
There is much prior research on the benefits of marriage for adults, including for mental and physical health (Carr and Springer 2010). Further research has demonstrated that the quality of one’s marriage provides benefits, and not merely the status itself (see Carr and Springer 2010; Proulx, Helms, and Buehler 2007). A close, salient relationship such as marriage is not experienced in isolation, but is rather an interpersonal system, where the characteristics, feelings, and opinions of each partner can influence the other (Berscheid and Ammazzalorso 2001; Carr et al. 2014; Moorman 2016). However, less research has been performed that takes advantage of dyadic data to determine whether and how a partner’s marital quality may affect one’s own well-being (Carr et al. 2014; Kenny 1996). Moreover, emotional experiences rarely remain truly private; individuals unconsciously signal and express their feelings to others, and can even transmit these emotional experiences to close social partners (Christakis and Fowler 2013; Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson 1994). The present dissertation examines the associations among older husbands’ and wives’ marital quality and well-being, using two sources of dyadic data, a range of measures of marital quality and well-being, and advanced analytic strategies appropriate for longitudinal and cross-sectional data. Older couples can differ from their younger and midlife counterparts, as both men and women trim their broader social networks in later life and increasingly focus on their closest and most rewarding relationships, such as marriage (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, and Charles 1999; Mancini and Bonanno 2006). Gendered roles may shift in later life, as well, as older adults cease activities such as child-rearing and full-time employment (Bookwala 2012). Thus, potential differences according to gender are also explicitly tested. The results of this dissertation will shed greater light on how older couples’ perceptions of marital quality influence various aspects of spouses’ well-being, cross-sectionally and over time. Mutual Influence and Older Married Adults’ Anxiety Symptoms: Results from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing analyzes cross-sectional dyadic data from 1,114 married older couples surveyed in the initial wave of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA; Kenny 2014), 2009-2011. Dyadic structural equation models (SEM) examined the direct and indirect associations between husbands’ and wives’ reports of marital strain and generalized anxiety symptoms in later life. Findings revealed that perceptions of marital strain were related with husbands’ and wives’ own generalized anxiety symptoms. Further, husbands’ anxiety symptoms were significantly related with wives’ anxiety symptoms, and vice versa, illustrating bi-directional feedback. Lastly, husbands’ and wives’ perceptions of marital strain were significantly indirectly related with their partners’ anxiety symptoms, with these associations being mediated by spouses’ own anxiety symptoms. These results suggest that emotional contagion may be the pathway for partner effects of marital strain on spouses’ well-being. Findings also suggest that efforts to reduce anxiety symptoms may be most effective when taking marital context and quality into account. Two-Wave Dyadic Analysis of Marital Quality and Loneliness in Later Life: Results From The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing analyzes dyadic reports of marital quality and loneliness over a two-year period, using longitudinal dyadic data collected from 932 older married couples who participated in both of the first two waves of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), collected from 2009-2013. Two-wave lagged dependent variable (LDV) models tested the cognitive perspective on loneliness, emotional contagion theory, and actor-partner interdependence by examining whether husbands’ and wives’ reports of marital quality and loneliness at baseline predicted both spouses’ loneliness two years later. Results indicated that one’s own perceptions of negative marital quality at baseline were related with greater loneliness after two years, supporting the cognitive perspective on loneliness. Further, both spouses’ reports of loneliness at baseline were related with loneliness two years later, supporting emotional contagion theory. Partners’ reports of marital quality were not related with future loneliness, failing to support actor-partner interdependence. Do “His” and “Her” Marriage Influence One Another? Older Spouses’ Marital Quality Over Four Years uses two-wave longitudinal data from the Disability and Use of Time (DUST) supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to examine associations between husbands’ and wives’ reports of marital quality over a four-year period. The sample consisted of 209 older married couples who participated in both the 2009 and 2013 waves of DUST. Lagged dependent variable (LDV) models tested whether older husbands’ and wives’ perceptions of marital quality are themselves subject to emotional contagion, by examining whether baseline reports of marital quality were related with one’s own and a partner’s marital quality after four years. Results indicated that (a) husbands reported better marital quality than their wives in both 2009 and 2013, (b) for both husbands and wives, baseline marital quality was significantly related with both one’s own and one’s partner’s marital quality four years later, and (c) there were no differences in effects according to gender. These findings offer support for the framework of “his” and “her” marriage, as well as emotional contagion theory. Together, these papers examine whether and how older spouses’ reports of marital quality and well-being are associated with one another, with a particular emphasis on assessing emotional contagion as a potential explanation and mechanism for dyadic partner effects. The results of these articles contribute empirically and theoretically to the literature(s) on marital quality and well-being; spousal interdependence; and emotional contagion. I discuss the implications of these articles for theory and future research concerning marriage and well-being in later life.