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Types of Marital Closeness and Mortality Risk in Older Couples

Tower, Roni Beth PhD; Kasl, Stanislav V. PhD, and; Darefsky, Amy S. MPH, PhD

Original Articles

Objective This study examines the impact of marital closeness on survival over 6 years in a community-dwelling sample of 305 older couples.

Method Closeness is defined as 1) naming one’s spouse as a confidant or source of emotional support (vs. not naming) and 2) being named by spouse on at least one of the two dimensions (vs. not being named). The survival effects of both naming and being named are examined in Cox proportional hazard regressions, controlling for sociodemographic, health status, and behavioral variables.

Results Husbands who were named by their wives but did not name them were least likely to have died after 6 years. Compared with them, husbands in marriages with the other three styles of closeness were from 3.30 to 4.68 times more likely to be dead. Wives’ results showed the same pattern of effects, with the same marital style being most protective as for husbands, but the effects were weaker. However, wives’ results were strongly moderated by parenting status: those who had ever had children who were in the marital closeness pattern of wife naming husband but not being named by him were highly protected. Compared with these wives, others who had had children were from 8.26 to 10.95 times less likely to be alive after 6 years.

Conclusions The same pattern of marital closeness most benefited husbands and those wives who had had children. These findings are not explained adequately by social support or marital role theory although they fit the latter more closely.

From Teacher’s College, Columbia University, NY (R.B.T.) and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health (S.V.K., A.S.D.), Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.

Received for publication January 22, 2001;

revision received July 23, 2001.

Address correspondence to: Roni Beth Tower, PhD, 186 Indian Trail Road, New Milford, CT 06776. Email:

Copyright © 2002 by American Psychosomatic Society
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