“His” and “Her” Marriage? The Role of Positive and Negative Marital Characteristics in Global Marital Satisfaction Among Older Adults

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Abstract

Objectives.

We explore gender differences in older adults’ appraisals of positive and negative aspects of their marriages, examine how these appraisals relate to global marital satisfaction, and identify distinctive marital profiles associated with global satisfaction in men and women.

Method.

Data are from the Changing Lives of Older Couples Study (n = 1,110). We used a variant of principal components analysis to generate marital quality profiles, based on one’s endorsement of positive and negative marital characteristics. OLS regression was used to detect associations between marital profiles and global marital satisfaction.

Results.

Men offered more positive marital assessments than women, particularly on items reflecting positive treatment by one’s wife. Three marital quality profiles emerged: Positive, Positive–Negative, and Negative. Although marital satisfaction was best explained by positive appraisals in both genders, they were less important for men than for women. The negative profile showed a tendency for a stronger prediction in men.

Discussion.

Prior studies show small differences in men’s and women’s global marital satisfaction. Our work provides evidence that the presence and magnitude of such gender differences may vary based on the specific marital component considered. We discuss ways that gender shapes marital interactions, expectations, and perceptions, and the implications of our results for the well-being of married older adults.

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