The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Examining Predictors of Anxiety Across Race in Married and Cohabiting People

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Tess Thompson, MPH, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Darrell Hudson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Purpose:  Being married is associated with lower rates of depression, but less is known about the association between marital status and anxiety.  Although African Americans, Caribbean Blacks, and Whites have different marriage patterns in the United States, few studies have examined whether the relationship between marital status and anxiety varies by race. Married and cohabiting people are often analyzed as a single group, but mental health in the two groups can differ significantly; given recent increases in cohabitation in the United States, more needs to be known about the relationship between cohabitation and mental health in diverse groups.  We sought to determine the association between relationship status and mental health in married versus cohabiting respondents in a sample of African Americans, Caribbean Blacks, and Whites.

Methods:  Data were drawn from the National Survey of American Life and included 2,433 people in married or cohabiting relationships.  Weighted comparisons were used to examine differences between people who were married and cohabiting.  Logistic regression used to analyze the effects of marital status and relationship satisfaction on reporting any of four anxiety disorders (panic, social phobia, agoraphobia without panic, and general anxiety disorder) in the past year.  Model variables included race, marital status, relationship satisfaction, sex, work status, age, education, and household income, as well as two interactions (marital status x relationship satisfaction and marital status x race).  Based on those results, models stratified by race were also created.

Results:  Cohabiting respondents were significantly younger than married respondents and reported lower household income (p<.05). Cohabiting and married people also differed significantly by race; African Americans made up over half (52%) of the cohabiting respondents, whereas they made up 38% of married respondents.  In a model that included all three racial groups, significant predictors for anxiety disorders included sex (p =.0497), race (p = .0015) and the interaction of marital status and race (p = .0003).  To interpret this interaction, separate models were run the NSAL’s three racial groups. Predictors of anxiety disorders differed by race.  For African Americans, sex was the only significant predictor, with women more likely to report an anxiety disorder than men (p = .0017).  For Whites, the interaction of marital status and relationship satisfaction was significant (p<.0001), with low relationship satisfaction predicting anxiety disorders among cohabiting respondents but not married respondents.  For Caribbean Blacks alone, the overall model predicting anxiety disorders was not significant. 

Implications:   Our results suggest that the association between relationship status and anxiety is complex and differs by race.  In our sample, relationship status alone was not associated with reporting an anxiety disorder among married and cohabiting people.  For African Americans, relationship satisfaction was also not associated with reporting an anxiety disorder in the past year. However, for Whites relationship satisfaction was a significant predictor for cohabiting respondents. In order to inform targeted screening and treatment interventions for anxiety, future research should further analyze the interplay of sex, race, relationship status, and relationship satisfaction with anxiety disorders in diverse populations.