Bad marriage, broken heart? Age and gender differences in the link between marital quality and cardiovascular risks among older adults

J Health Soc Behav. 2014 Dec;55(4):403-23. doi: 10.1177/0022146514556893.


Working from a life course perspective, we develop hypotheses about age and gender differences in the link between marital quality and cardiovascular risk and test them using data from the first two waves of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. The analytic sample includes 459 married women and 739 married men (aged 57-85 in the first wave) who were interviewed in both waves. We apply Heckman-type corrections for selection bias due to mortality and marriage. Cardiovascular risk is measured as hypertension, rapid heart rate, C-reactive protein, and general cardiovascular events. Results suggest that changes in marital quality and cardiovascular risk are more closely related for older married people than for their younger counterparts and that the link between marital quality and cardiovascular risk is more pronounced among women than among men at older ages. These findings fit with the gendered life course perspective and cumulative disadvantage framework.

Keywords: age; cardiovascular risks; gender; marriage; older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Hypertension / psychology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Protective Factors
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • United States


  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein