Marital Transitions and Depressive Symptoms among Older Adults: Examining Educational Differences.

TitleMarital Transitions and Depressive Symptoms among Older Adults: Examining Educational Differences.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsRecksiedler, C, Stawski, RS
ISSN Number1423-0003
KeywordsDepressive symptoms, Education, Marriage

BACKGROUND: Later decades of the life course have undergone rapid transformations due to demographic changes in ageing societies, such as more frequent occurrences of later-life marital transitions. Adaption to these transitions, even when welcomed, brings novel chances and challenges in negotiating new social roles in old age, which could reinforce preexisting disparities in the acquisition and mastery of resources, social ties, and coping strategies.

OBJECTIVES: Because the ability to weather later-life marital transitions may depend on the long arm of education acquired earlier in the life course, the present study aims to identify and track trends in the prevalence of marriage, divorce/separation, and widowhood among sociodemographic subgroups; link the occurrence of those transitions with mental health; and test the influence of educational attainment on these associations.

METHODS: We employ an intraindividual, within-person approach to quantify the occurrence of marital transitions and their impact using data from the Health and Retirement Study (n = 22,013; 1992-2010). Measures of transition occurrence, depressive symptoms, and educational attainment were available across up to 10 biennial assessments.

RESULTS: Individuals with less than a high school diploma displayed the highest likelihood of losing their significant other through divorce/separation or death. Marital loss was associated with increasing, and marital gain with decreasing, depressive symptoms. Compared to those with less than a high school diploma, individuals with a high school or general equivalency diploma exhibited larger increases in depressive symptoms associated with widowhood, even though their average levels of depressive symptoms were lower in the absence of this transition.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings revealed a predictable educational gradient for the occurrence of marital transitions and later-life mental health. Yet higher, formalized education did not protect the participants from increased depression in the presence of a loss-related transition, which could suggest that the strains of spousal loss may to some degree function as a leveler of the preexisting social inequalities of stratified life courses. We conclude that the benefits conferred by education are not necessarily ubiquitous, and its impact on the adaptation to spousal loss may be more complex and nuanced depending on the range of prior experiences and available coping strategies.

User Guide Notes

Alternate JournalGerontology
Citation Key9921
PubMed ID30481757
PubMed Central IDPMC6536353
Grant ListP30 AG012846 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States
R03 AG042919 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States