Long-Term Marriages: Pondering Recent Study Results 

long-term marriages

A recent study in the Social Psychology Quarterly looks at long-term marriages and has some interesting  results to ponder.  A summary of findings include:

Married women over 50 rate the quality of their marriages lower than their husbands do.

In this study, on a 4-point scale, the wives gave their marriages an average overall score of 2.99 – the husbands in that marriage 3.2.  It seems like a narrow difference, but Jeffrey Stokes, a sociology professor at Illinois State University and the study’s author says, “it’s pretty much across the board.” According to Stokes, there is a “clear trend of husbands reporting better marital quality than their own wives.”

​​​The way one spouse perceives the marriage impacts the way that the other spouse perceives the marriage.

Stokes compared the responses of more than 200 couples in 2009 and 2013, and found that one spouse’s perspective on the marriage influenced the other’s perception. For example, if a husband had a positive perspective of the marriage, it tended to improve his wife’s, or if a wife had a negative perspective it would decrease “her husband’s estimation of their union.”  There was no gender effect – it worked the other way as well, e.g., if the husband had a negative perception, it would tend to decrease the wife’s, and if a wife had a positive perspective, it would increase the husband’s perception.

While I find this second result interesting, the over 50 married women rating the marriage quality lower than husband’s left me pondering more. For example,

Would the marriage quality rating results differ between these sample groups?

a) Couples who had children, including sub-samples of couples who had one child, two, and three or more children

b) Couples who had no children by choice

c) Couples who had wanted children but due to circumstances ended up not having them

d) Couples where one spouse had wanted them, the other not, and they had children

e) Couples where one spouse had wanted them, and the other not, and they had no children

In other words…

How do different parenthood decisions affect the ratings of couples over fifty? With the divorce rate of Americans over 50 having doubled in the past 30 years, and “one in four now involve people older than 50,” taking a deeper look at whether parenthood has an effect on long-term marriage quality ratings could prove very informative.

Also, at 50 and older, if the couples had children, they may now be empty nesters, and the marriage quality ratings may relate more to their current state, not from the past when they were in the parenthood phase of their marriage. So perhaps a longitudinal study with these sample groups could better shed light on this question.

As I read Orna Donath’s Regretting Motherhood, I further ponder d) above – what might the marriage quality rating difference be between husbands and wives where the husband wanted children and the over 50 wife who did not and had them anyway? What might the difference be if the husband wanted them, she thought she did, but once she did, she came to realize she wish she hadn’t? In other words, does not wanting to become a mother and doing it anyway and regretting motherhood impact the ratings of long-term marriages?

What would you hypothesize?

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