Drinking Patterns Among Older Couples: Longitudinal Associations With Negative Marital Quality

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2018 Apr 16;73(4):655-665. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw073.


Objectives: Research with younger couples indicates that alcohol use has powerful effects on marital quality, but less work has examined the effects of drinking among older couples. This study examined whether dyadic patterns of drinking status among older couples are associated with negative marital quality over time.

Method: Married participants (N = 4864) from the Health and Retirement Study reported on alcohol consumption (whether they drink alcohol and average amount consumed per week) and negative marital quality (e.g., criticism and demands) across two waves (Wave 1 2006/2008 and Wave 2 2010/2012).

Results: Concordant drinking couples reported decreased negative marital quality over time, and these links were significantly greater among wives. Wives who reported drinking alcohol reported decreased negative marital quality over time when husbands also reported drinking and increased negative marital quality over time when husbands reported not drinking.

Discussion: The present findings stress the importance of considering the drinking status rather than the amount of alcohol consumed of both members of the couple when attempting to understand drinking and marital quality among older couples. These findings are particularly salient given the increased drinking among baby boomers and the importance of marital quality for health among older couples.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Family Conflict / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Spouses / psychology
  • Spouses / statistics & numerical data