Better Late Than Early: Marital Timing and Subjective Well-Being in Midlife

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Abstract

Drawing on data from 405 Canadian adults surveyed as high school seniors (Age 18) and again in midlife (Age 43), the present study examined whether marital timing, a variable rooted in the age norm hypothesis (whether marriage was early, on time, or late in relation to peers), might contribute additional insight into the well-documented association between marital status and subjective well-being (SWB; happiness, symptoms of depression, and self-esteem). The analysis also considered 3 alternative explanations of the marriage–SWB link: the social selection hypothesis, social role theory, and the adaptation perspective. Path analysis results demonstrated marrying on time or late compared with marrying early predicted fewer symptoms of depression in midlife, offering some support for the age norm hypothesis. Little support was found for the social selection hypothesis, but getting married and divorcing were consistently linked with future SWB, in accordance with social role theory. Marrying at an older age predicted higher self-esteem in midlife for men, implying potential adaptation.

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