National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging

This study is maintained and distributed by the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging (NACDA), the aging program within ICPSR. NACDA is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Heath (NIH).

Marital Instability Over the Life Course [United States]: A Six-Wave Panel Study, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992-1994, 1997, 2000 (ICPSR 3812)

Principal Investigator(s): Booth, Alan, Pennsylvania State University; Johnson, David, Pennsylvania State University; Amato, Paul, Pennsylvania State University; Rogers, Stacy, Pennsylvania State University


To examine the causes of marital instability throughout the life course, six waves of data were collected between 1980 and 2000 from married individuals who were between the ages of 18 and 55 in 1980. Information collected in 1980 (Wave I) focused on the effects of wives' participation in the labor force on marriage and marital instability. Measures predicting marital instability and divorce and assessing marital quality were developed. Variables include information on earnings, commitment to work, hours worked, and occupational status. The focus of Wave II, conducted in 1983, was to link changes in factors such as economic resources, wife's employment, presence of children, marital satisfaction, life goals, and health to actions intended to dissolve a marriage, such as divorce and permanent separation. Information on adjustment to marital dissolution, relationship with in-laws, size of home, parents' employment, use of free time, club membership, child-care arrangements, and responsibility for chores was gathered. Wave III, collected in 1988, further examined the impact of changes in employment, economics, and health on marital relationships. Questions were asked about divorce and remarriage, investment of energy and resource use in the care of aging parents and dependent offspring, asset value, awareness of aging, mental health issues, and history of disease. In 1992, Wave IV data were collected to look at changes in employment, economics, and health. Questions were asked about retirement issues, family structure, and the impact of caring for aging parents while at the same time caring for dependent offspring. Data were also collected in 1992 and 1994 from adult offspring who were living in the household in 1980 and had reached age 19 by 1992, thus providing parallel measures with their parents regarding the quality of parent-child relationships, attitudes, and support along with exploring the impact of childhood experiences on the transition to adult life. In 1997, the fifth wave was collected and interviews were conducted with a second sample of adult offspring (N=202) along with second interviews of offspring selected in 1992 (N=606). Wave V also examined the relationship between marital quality and stability and how it relates to changes in marital quality later in life. In 2000, Wave VI data were collected. Included with the adult panel was a panel obtained from the offspring who participated in 1992 or 1997, a replicate of the original cross-section study completed in 1980 (comprised of currently married persons between the ages of 19 and 55), along with a comparison sample made up of persons who were married in 1980 and were between 39 and 75 years old. The investigators examined whether there were changes in marital quality between 1980 and 2000, identified factors that might have accounted for these changes, and sought to determine their impact on the health and longevity of older persons. New questions included in Wave VI covered whether the respondent thought he/she had an organized lifestyle, alcohol and tobacco use, health problems, physical limitations, and mattering (the level of concern expressed for and received from spouse). Among the variables included in all six waves are age, sex, educational attainment, marital status and history, attitude toward divorce, number of children, religious affiliation, and income level. The Work and Family Life Study (ICPSR 26641) was conducted in 2000 as a follow-up to the Marital Instability Over the Life Course Study. Included in the Work and Family Life Study is a new cross-section of 2,100 married people 55 years of age and younger. Additionally, the Work and Family Life Study contains a Comparison Sample comprised of 1,600 additional respondents. The purpose of this Comparison Sample is to assess potential bias due to sample attrition in the panel study.

Series: Marital Instability Over the Life Course/Work and Family Life Study Series

Access Notes

  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.


Marital Instability Over the Life Course [United States]: A Six-Wave Panel Study, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992-1994, 1997, 2000 - Download All Files (129.48 MB)
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Study Description


Booth, Alan, David Johnson, Paul Amato, and Stacy Rogers. Marital Instability Over the Life Course [United States]: A Six-Wave Panel Study, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992-1994, 1997, 2000. ICPSR03812-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2010-01-21.

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This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging (1-RO1-AGO4146)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    aging, alcohol consumption, career goals, caregiver burden, divorce, dual career couples, expectations, family life, family work relationship, gender roles, health, life events, life plans, marital instability, marital satisfaction, marriage, mental health, occupational status, parent child relationship, personal finances, physical limitations, tobacco use, work attitudes

Geographic Coverage:    United States

Time Period:   

  • 1980
  • 1983
  • 1988
  • 1992--1994
  • 1997
  • 2000

Universe:    All intact marriages in the continental United States with partners between the ages of 18 and 55 in 1980 and living in households with telephones.

Data Type(s):    survey data

Data Collection Notes:

Because of additional cleaning of the data performed by the principal investigator, this data collection supersedes earlier versions (ICPSR 9199, ICPSR 9200, ICPSR 9747, and ICPSR 2163).

In processing this collection, ICPSR did not change missing data codes defined by the principal investigators, at their request, and SAS and SPSS system missing data values were assigned numeric codes for each variable. Also, an unmarried case in Wave I was deleted at the principal investigators' request.


Sample:    National probability sample. The sample was selected using a random-digit dialing cluster technique. Data were weighted to adjust for underrepresentation in metropolitan areas.

Data Source:

telephone interviews and mailback questionnaires

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed consistency checks.
  • Created variable labels and/or value labels.


Original ICPSR Release:   2003-11-10

Version History:

  • 2010-01-21 Updated value labels.

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