Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Marriage in Later Life: The Relationship Between Marital Quality, Health, and Divorce

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Susan Brown


In this study, I use data from the 1992 through 2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to investigate correlates of marital quality in later life, examine the influence of marital quality and later life transitions on physical health and divorce outcomes, and assess whether there are gender and race-ethnic variations in the relationship between later life transitions, marital quality, health, and divorce. Results show that later life transitions (specifically, economic and employment situation, children in the household, and caregiving for a parent or parent-in-law) are important to marital quality; and, there are notable gender and race-ethnic variations in marital quality, as well as gender and race-ethnic variations in how later life transitions are associated with marital quality. I find that marital quality is also related to physical health; among older married adults, marital happiness, interaction, and inequity are related to both subjective and objective measures of health. Older adults who are happily married have better physical health than those in low-quality marriages, cohabitors, the divorced, the widowed, and the never-married, and results reveal important gender and race-ethnic differences in the relationship between marital status, marital quality, and health. Finally, marital quality is related to divorce for older adults, and the marital quality of both spouses is consequential for marital dissolution. Later life characteristics (including wealth and employment status, spouse’s health, grandchildren in the household, providing financial support to parents, and the emptying of the nest) are also associated with divorce, and the relationship between later life transitions and divorce depends on marital quality, gender, and race. Results point to the importance of marital quality for health and divorce in later life, demonstrate that later life characteristics and events do influence older adults’ marriages, and underscore the need for attention to gender and race-ethnic diversity.