Marital Happiness and Psychological Well-Being across the Life Course*

By Dush, Claire M. Kamp; Taylor, Miles G. et al. | Family Relations, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Marital Happiness and Psychological Well-Being across the Life Course*


Dush, Claire M. Kamp, Taylor, Miles G., Kroeger, Rhiannon A., Family Relations


Abstract:

Using data from six waves of the Study of Marital Instability over the Life Course (N = 1,998), we conducted a latent class analysis to test for distinct marital happiness trajectories. We found three distinct marital happiness trajectories: low, middle, and high happiness. Initial levels of life happiness were strongly associated with membership in the marital happiness trajectories and with various demographic and attitude-related control variables. Using fixed effects regression with time-varying covariates, we also found that marital happiness trajectory membership was associated with subsequent changes in both life happiness and depressive symptoms. All respondents experienced a decrease in life happiness between Wave 1 and the end of their observed time in their marriage, but respondents in the high marital happiness trajectory experienced the smallest decline. Respondents in both the high and middle marital happiness trajectories also experienced a decline in depressive symptoms across time. Intervention and policy implications are discussed.

Key Words: depression, latent class analysis, marital happiness, marital satisfaction, well-being.

In February 2006, President George W. Bush reauthorized the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and extended the original legislation such that, currently, $100 million a year is provided for programs that promote healthy marriage via the Healthy Marriage Initiative. One of the main theoretical assumptions of this legislation is that adults are better off in terms of health and psychological well-being if living in households having marital unions. However, recent evidence has suggested that marriage is not beneficial for all spouses with respect to health and well-being (Hawkins & Booth, 2005; Williams, 2003). Our study extends this work by using latent class methods to establish trajectories of marital happiness and then linking trajectories of marital happiness to both positive and negative aspects of psychological well-being. We used six waves of data from the Study of Marital Instability over the Life Course (Booth, Johnson, Amato, & Rogers, 2003), collected from 1980 to 2000, to examine these associations.

Marital Happiness Over Time

In the marital literature, marital quality or health has been broadly defined. For example, marital happiness, marital conflict, marital commitment, social support, marital interaction, marital discord, forgiveness, and domestic violence have each been conceptualized as dimensions of marital quality and are sometimes combined as a single indicator of marital quality (Stanley, 2007). Marital scholars have recently critiqued research that uses global indicators of marital quality, particularly widely used global evaluators that include the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976) and the Marital Adjustment Test (Locke & Wallace, 1959). Scholars have called instead for a more nuanced view of various indicators of marital quality (Amato, Booth, Johnson, & Rogers, 2007; Fincham & Beach, 2006). We chose to focus our investigation on a single dimension of marital quality-marital happiness, that is, an overall appraisal of the degree of happiness with various dimensions of one's marriage. Marital happiness is a powerful indicator of marital quality, although it does not capture specific behavioral correlates. For example, marital happiness correlates with other indicators of marital quality, such as marital interaction, marital conflict, marital problems, and divorce proneness (Amato et al., 2007). Marital happiness has also been found to correlate with the presence of children in the household, household income, welfare use, egalitarian attitudes, traditional marital attitudes, religiosity (Amato et al., 2007), and the interdependence of familial and friendship networks (Kearns & Leonard, 2004). Thus, we use the term "marital happiness" to indicate variables used in past research to measure satisfaction or happiness with various domains of the marriage. …

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