Associations between Marital Distress and Work Loss in a National Sample

Article excerpt

This study presents analyses of data from the National Comorbidity Survey to assess the extent to which problems within marriage spill over to produce work loss. Results indicate that marital distress is positively associated with work loss-particularly among men in their first 10 years of marriage. Based on the average earnings of participants, work loss associated with marital

problems translates into a loss of approximately $6.8 billion per year. These findings suggest that family interventions targeted at the prevention of marital problems may result in important psychosocial and economic benefits for business and society.

HOWARD J. MARKMAN University of Denver* MARTHA COX University of North Carolina**

SCOTT STANLEY University of Denver* RONALD C. KESSLER Harvard Medical School***

*Psychology Department, University of Denver, 2460 South Vine Street, Denver, CO 80208.

**Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB#8180, 105 Smith Level Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.

***Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 25 Shattuck Street, Parcel B, Ist Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

Key Words: marital distress, marriage, sex differences, work productivity.

Although little research has been focused directly on the way families influence work productivity (Crouter, 1984), evidence from research on the interface between work and family (Eckenrode & Gore, 1990; Moen & Dempster-McClain, 1987) and on determinants of productivity at work (Friedman, 1991; Steers & Rhodes, 1978; Voydanoff, 1980) and from clinical practice with distressed married couples (Stanley & Markman, 1995) suggests that problems at home may affect performance on the job and vice versa. To understand the interconnections of home and work, we must recognize that these influences may operate in both directions. Experiences and stresses at home may influence behavior in the workplace, and experiences in the workplace may influence behavior at home (Crouter, 1984; Eckenrode & Gore, 1990; Kanter, 1977). Though it is difficult to disentangle these reciprocal associations, information concerning linkages between problems in the family and worker productivity is important in considering the social costs of family instability and the cost-effectiveness of programs to increase family stability.

The purpose of this study is to present analyses of data from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS; Kessler et al., 1994) to assess the extent to which problems within marriage spill over to create problems at work. Specifically, the major aim of this article is to estimate the costs of marital distress in terms of reduced job productivity or work loss and to discuss the potential psychosocial and economic benefits of family interventions targeted at the prevention of these costs.


Although few studies have explicitly examined the effects of home and family factors on work experiences and work productivity, marital distress has been associated with a variety of negative consequences. Marital problems have been linked to mental health problems (Beach, Smith, & Fincham, 1994; Coie et al., 1993). Marital conflict also has been associated with impaired immune function among adults (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1993) and slower rates of recovery from a variety of physical health problems (Schmaling & Sher, in press), outcomes that, in turn, have clearly established impacts on worker productivity and absenteeism (e.g., Clark, 1983; Hendrix, Steel, & Schultz, 1987). Consistent with this evidence that marital distress has negative effects on multiple critical life domains, it is plausible that marital distress also might have important consequences for work productivity. Moreover, if marital distress does affect work loss, corporations may find that employee assistance programs that promote family stability are a cost-efficient means of maintaining and even improving productivity. …