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Sociology Professors Take Part in Large-Scale Study on Marriage and Aging

September 18, 2019

Professors of Sociology Miles Taylor and Koji Ueno will be part of a $2 million data collection project funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Led by Claire Kamp Dush at Ohio State University, the Work and Family Life Study (WAFLS) is an extension of data collections done in 1980 and 2000 to explore trends in marital and family functioning and their impact on health and well-being.

Health among midlife and older adults in the U.S. has been declining in the past 40 years, coinciding with substantial changes in marriage. Since marital functioning has an established connection to health and well-being, the way couples function may provide clues on these health declines.

However, nationally representative data on marital functioning has not been collected recently enough to keep up with changes in marriage and family life in the past two decades. Trends in childbearing, changes in work and shifting roles for men and women have not been comprehensively captured in data from across the country to help us understand current family life and how it impacts our health as we age.

Furthermore, in 2015, when same-gender marriage was legalized in all 50 states, a Gallup poll showed that almost one million Americans were in same-gender marriages, but large-scale, nationally representative data has not been collected since before 2015.

The WAFLS data collection, slated to sample 2,000 U.S. married adults starting in 2021, will provide valuable insights into how today’s couples function, whether in same-gender or mixed-gender unions. It will also provide updated information into how marriage is changing in an aging America.

“We know that marriage and marital quantity have positive associations with health and well-being, and we know that a substantial portion of care for older adults is provided by spouses,” said Taylor, who is also an associate of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. “On both counts, it is imperative to know how to support healthy and high-quality partnerships as people age into later life.”

This project is the culmination of a decade-long collaboration between Taylor and Kamp Dush. Their work together has produced multiple papers primarily looking at interrelated facets of marital functioning, such as marital happiness and conflict, across the adult life span.

Taylor and Ueno will be involved in developing, revising and analyzing the measures in the survey, which will be conducted by the global analytics firm Gallup.

“This is a fascinating time to be studying marriage,” said Taylor. “If we can understand how marital partnerships function and how that is connected to well-being across our country, we can better shape policies and support to promote happy, healthy relationships.”