Academic journal article Family Relations

Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability

Academic journal article Family Relations

Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability

Article excerpt

The high rate of marital dissolution in the United States has resulted in high emotional, financial, and social costs to adults and children. This obligates family professionals to better understand the premarital factors that predict and influence marital quality and better utilize this knowledge to provide effective family life education (FLE) programs and premarital counseling (PC) for premarital couples. Although a few attempts have been made to review the predictors of marital quality and stability by scholars over the last 20 years, an up-to-date review with practical implications for FLEs and PCs is not currently available. The purposes of this article were to: (a) provide a comprehensive review of the empirical literature on premarital predictors of marital quality and stability in first marriages, (b) make recommendations for future studies of prediction, and (c) suggest ways family professionals can use this information to improve couples' chances for high marital quality and stability.

This review was based on the following assumptions: (a) people can change the nature and quality of their relationship before marriage (Renick, Blumberg, & Markman, 1992); (b) we can identify the factors that, if changed, will make a difference later in marriage Renick et al., 1992); and (c) marriage is worth saving, partially because it is perceived as the most important and fundamental human relationship and is the primary means of establishing a family relationship for rearing the next generation (Stahmann & Hiebert, 1987).

Our search of the literature included utilizing the following comprehensive bibliographical references: Inventory of Marriage and Family Literature (1975-1992), Psychological Abstracts (1975-1993), and the computer bibliographic search systems PsychLit and Sociofile. Only research published in professional journals and books was included. Because some studies on prediction are very old but are considered landmark studies (e.g., Adams, 1946; Terman & Oden, 1947), we included them in the review. Because of space limitations, not all sources we reviewed are referenced in this paper. Instead, examples are listed throughout the paper. For a complete set of references, contact the first author.

For the purpose of this paper, marital quality was defined as a subjective evaluation of a couple's relationship. Marital stability was defined as the status of a marriage as intact or nonintact (i.e., separated or divorced.


Predicting marital quality and stability has long been of interest to family scholars and researchers. Most of the preeminent studies of marriage in the early years of family studies had a prediction component using premarital predictors (e.g., Adams, 1946; Burgess & Cottrell, 1939; Burgess & Wallin, 1953; Terman & Oden, 1947). There also have been a number of reviews of the premarital predictors of marital outcomes. The first reviews, reflecting the nature of the research they reviewed, were atheoretical (e.g., Burgess & Wallin, 1953; Kirkpatrick, 1955). However, this began to change in the 1960s. In the first edition of the Handbook Marriage and the Family, Bowerman (1964) reviewed the major studies and called for the creation of a special theory of marital prediction. He also noted the need to use general theoretical frameworks in marital prediction theory building.

The next major reviews of the premarital prediction literature followed Bowerman's suggestion. Burr (1973) reviewed the major findings and organized them in higher order propositions by means of theoretical frameworks, including role theory, symbolic interactionism, and balance theory. Lewis and Spanier (1979) followed the same inductive procedure to create their theory of marital quality and stability. They used a social exchange perspective to guide their selection of conceptual labels to describe the premarital predictors. …

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