Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Happy Marriage, Happy Life? Marital Quality and Subjective Well-Being in Later Life

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Happy Marriage, Happy Life? Marital Quality and Subjective Well-Being in Later Life

Article excerpt

The protective effects of marriage for physical and emotional well-being are widely docu- mented (Carr & Springer, 2010). However, recent research shows that these effects are conditional upon the quality of the marriage; problematic marriages take an emotional toll, whereas high-quality marriages provide bene- fits, especially for women (Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007) and older adults (Umberson, Williams, Powers, Liu, & Needham, 2006). Although the positive association between mar- ital quality and well-being is well established, several important issues remain unexplored. First, most such studies have focused on neg- ative aspects of psychological functioning, especially depressive symptoms (Bookwala, 2012). Studies that have focused on pos- itive aspects of well-being typically have used decontextualized and general fife sat- isfaction measures (Whisman, Uebelacker, Tolejko, Chatav, & Meckelvie, 2006) rather than momentary measures of positive mood that may be less susceptible to response bias.

Second, most studies have focused on only one spouse's marital appraisals and have not considered that both own and spouse's appraisals may contribute independently to well-being (i.e., actor vs. partner effects; Cook & Kenney, 2005). Although mounting research suggests that one spouse's marital (dis)satisfaction may affect the other partner's well-being, such studies typically have focused on young or midlife persons (Beach, Katz, Kim, & Brody, 2003; Whisman, Uebelacker, & Weinstock, 2004). Third, we know of no studies that have explored the combined influences of both partners' mar- ital appraisals on well-being. Older spouses' marital appraisals are correlated only mod- estly ( r < .50 in the present study; see also Bulanda, 2011; Carr & Boerner, 2009; Cohen, Geron, & Farchi, 2009); thus, it is plausible that spouses' appraisals as well as convergences (or divergences) therein may have independent associations with well-being. The protective effects of marital satisfaction on emotional well-being may be amplified when one's spouse also is satisfied with the marriage, whereas the association may be dampened or even reversed when one's partner is dissatisfied. An exploration of the multiplicative influences of "his" and "her" marital assessments on one's well-being will shed light on complex associa- tions between marital dynamics and emotional well-being in later life.

Thus, in this study we explored the distinc- tive ways that both own and spouse's marital quality appraisals are associated with two aspects of older adults' subjective well-being: (a) evaluations of one's life in general (i.e., global life satisfaction) and (b) how one expe- riences life moment to moment (i.e., happiness during randomly sampled activities on the day prior to interview). Data were from the 2009 Disability and Use of Time (DUST) supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which includes 24-hour time diaries capturing activities and emotions experienced on the previous day. Using these data obtained from older married couples, we explored the following four areas: (a) associations between marital quality and well-being for husbands and wives; (b) differences in how own ("actor") and spouse's ("partner") marital appraisals are associated with well-being; (c) the extent to which associations between marital quality appraisals and well-being persist net of demo- graphic, health, socioeconomic status, and characteristics of the target day (e.g., day of week, activity); and (d) the extent to which the associations between one's own marital appraisals and well-being are moderated by a spouse's appraisals.

Understanding later life marriage is an important pursuit given current demographic trends. The proportion of adults age 65 and older is projected to increase, from 13% in 2010 to nearly 20% in 2030 (Federal Inter- agency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2012) . Marital quality has far-reaching impli- cations for the health and well-being of older adults; it is a well-documented buffer against the health-depleting effects of later life stres- sors such as caregiving (Bookwala, 2012) and is a critical resource as couples manage dif- ficult decisions regarding their end-of-life health care (Carr, Boerner, & Moorman, 2013) . …

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