Couple Relationships and Health during Transition to Later Adulthood


Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Project Number: R01AG04359901A1) Over $2.5 million from 2014-2019

Study Aims

Aim 1: To investigate long-term continuity (1991 – 2014) and changes in couples’ marital functioning (MF)including marital interactions (MI) and relationship quality (MQ) from couples’ middle years to elderly years and to link these constructs to enduring personal characteristics including genes and chronic and recent economic and family circumstances (paths 1 in Figure 1).

Aim 2: To test hypotheses about the physical and emotional health consequences of chronic and cumulative life experiences, including marital history, family discord, impaired parent-child relationships, economic hardship during middle years, and enduring vulnerabilities (paths 2).

Aim 3: To test hypotheses about the moderating effects of enduring vulnerabilities including genes and chronic and recent economic and family circumstances on the relationship between marital functioning and subsequent physical and emotional health in elderly years (paths 3).

Figure 1: Conceptual model of couples’ relationship and health during the transition to later adulthood

Enduring personal characteristics, including genetics chart. email wickrama(at) for description


The health (broadly defined to include relational, psychological, mental and physical health) of the baby boom cohort is an enormous public health concern, especially during this time of economic depression. NIH has placed a high priority on the study the aging population’s health. The goal of the current study is to improve knowledge regarding the continuity and change in couple relationships and health during later adulthood by investigating influences of long-term work, marital, parental and social experiences, and the retirement transition as well as genetic markers.

Learn more about study activities and participants

Project Investigators

  • University of Georgia Investigators
    • Principal Investigator:
    • Co-Investigators:
  • Iowa State University Investigators
    • Principal Investigator for the ISU subcontract:
      • Tricia Neppl,
        Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies
    • Co-Investigator:


  • Rand D. Conger, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Human Ecology UC Davis
  • Michael Stallings, Professor, Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado Boulder

Research Collaborators

  • Tae Kyoung-Lee, Senior Research Associate, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Miami – Miller School of Medicine
  • Dayoung Bae, Research Professional, Center for Family Research, The University of Georgia
  • Seonhwa Lee, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Human Development and Family Science, The University of Georgia
  • Debbie Bahr Family Transitions Project Manager

Recent Publications

Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., & Lorenz, F. O. (under review). Marital processes linking personal vulnerabilities and mental health across the middle years.

Wickrama, K. A. S., Klopeck, E., O’Neal, C. W., Beach, S. H., Neppl, T., Lorenz, F. O., Bae, D. (under review). Life course patterns of concurrent trajectories of BMI and affective symptoms: Socioeconomic antecedents and disease outcomes in later life.

Klopack, E., Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., Simons, R. L., Neppl, T., & Lorenz, F. O. (under review). Understanding the intersection of financial strain, BMI, and cardiovascular disease in middle and later life: Survival growth mixture analysis.

Wickrama, K. A. S., Bryant, V., O’Neal, C. W. & Lorenz, F. O. (under review). Chronic work

adversity and the progression of depressive symptoms in middle-aged husbands and wives: The moderating role of spousal support.

Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., & Bryant, V. (in revision). Adverse work experiences and marital outcomes in middle-years: Mediating role of self-esteem.

Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., & Lorenz, F. O. (2017). The decade-long effect of work insecurity on husbands’ and wives’ midlife health mediated by anxiety: A dyadic analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Doi: 10.1037/ocp0000084

Bryant, V., Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., & Lorenz, F. O. (2017). Family hostility and depressive symptoms in middle-aged couples: Moderating effect of marital integration. Journal of Family Psychology. Doi: 10.1037/fam0000306

Jeon, S. & Neppl, T. K. (2016). Intergenerational continuity in economic hardship, parental positivity, and positive parenting: The association with child behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(1), 22-32.

Lee, S., Wickrama, K. A. S., Futris, T., & Manicni, J. A. (2016). Linking work control to depressive symptoms through intrapersonal and marital processes. Journal of Family Issues. Doi: 0192513X16663252.

Wickrama, K. A. S., Surjadi, F. F., Lorenz, F. O., Conger, R. D., & O’Neal, C. W. (2012). Family economic hardship and progression of poor mental health in middle-aged husbands and wives. Family Relations, 61, 297-312.

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