Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16751 Trajectories of Marital Quality and Depressive Symptoms Across the Adult Life Span

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 4:30 PM
Burnham (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hong-Min Ahn, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Purpose: Research demonstrates that marital relationships are associated with physical and/or physical well-being in various ways (e.g., Umberson et al., 1996). Especially marital quality (i.e., positive and negative marital exchanges) is known to have significant effects on well-being across the adult life span. There still remain many ambiguities, however, about the extent and the ways in which marital quality is associated with depressive symptoms. Specifically, little is known about the developmental associations of positive and negative marital exchanges with depressive symptoms over time. This study aims to answer the question, “What are the effects of positive and negative marital exchanges on changes in depressive symptoms over time and across the adult life span?” Socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen, 1992), a life course perspective to social goals, suggests that marital exchanges become more important to well-being as people age.

Methods: Data came from the nationally representative Americans' Changing Lives study, for the subgroup of respondents aged 25 to 82 (n=1,129) who were continuously married throughout the first three waves (1986, 1989, & 1994). This study divided age into three groups that represented different life stages: young (20-39), middle-aged (40-59), and older adults (60 and older). Depression was measured by an 11-item version of the CESD scale (Radloff, 1977). Positive and negative marital exchanges were measured using items that asked about marital quality (e.g., feel loved or feel bothered by marriage). This study included other important variables (e.g., gender, education, and family income) to control for spurious effects. A series of latent growth curve analyses were conducted using Mplus version 6.1 to examine the effects of positive and negative marital exchanges on the trajectories of depressive symptoms over time.

Results: Findings show that, as hypothesized, negative martial exchanges were significantly associated with the initial levels and rates of change of depressive symptoms. Especially, negative marital exchanges had more potent effects on the trajectories of depressive symptoms among older adults. Positive marital exchanges, however, were not substantially associated with changes in depressive symptoms over time. Education and female were associated with slower rates of decline in depressive symptoms over time. Overall findings demonstrated that negative marital exchanges had significant effects on the trajectories of depressive symptoms over time especially among older adults.

Implications: This study sheds lights on the importance of taking into account marital quality in examining the longitudinal patterns of depressive symptoms. Specifically, the findings showing the strong effects of negative marital quality on the trajectories of depressive symptoms indicate the importance of considering negative relationship quality in assessing the life-course trajectories of psychological well-being. This study lends partial support for socioemotional selectivity theory by finding that negative relationship quality was more strongly associated with changes in depressive symptoms especially among older adults. The substantial effects of negative marital exchanges on rates of change in depressive symptoms indicate that social work interventions for older adults need to focus on decreasing conflicts as well as building support in marital relationships.

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