Marital Instability Over the Life Course [United States]: A Five-Wave Panel Study, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992-1994, 1997 (ICPSR 2163)

Principal Investigator(s): Booth, Alan, Pennsylvania State University


To examine the causes of marital instability throughout the life course, five waves of data were collected between 1980 and 1997 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, a fourth wave of data was 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 5 also examines the relationship between marital quality and stability and how it relates to changes in marital quality later in life. Among the variables included in all five waves are age, sex, educational attainment, marital status and history, attitude toward divorce, number of children, religious affiliation, and income level.

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.


DS1:  Data File - Download All Files (20.556 MB)
ASCII + SAS Setup    SPSS Setup   
DS2:  Codebook for Waves I, II, III: 1980, 1983, 1988
No downloadable data files available.
DS3:  Codebook for Wave IV: 1992 and 1994
No downloadable data files available.
DS4:  Codebook for Wave V: 1997
No downloadable data files available.

Study Description


Booth, Alan. Marital Instability Over the Life Course [United States]: A Five-Wave Panel Study, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992-1994, 1997. ICPSR02163-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2009-02-25.

Persistent URL:

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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, 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, work attitudes

Geographic Coverage:    United States

Time Period:   

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

Date of Collection:   

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, and ICPSR 9747).

In ICPSR's processing of this collection, missing data codes defined by the principal investigators were left unchanged at their request, and SAS and SPSS system missing data were assigned numeric codes for each variable. Also, an unmarried case in Wave I was deleted at the principal investigators' request.

The codebooks are provided by the principal investigator and the user guide for Wave V is provided by ICPSR.


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


Original ICPSR Release:   1998-03-17

Version History:

  • 2001-09-20 Data for Wave 5 (1997) has been provided by the principal investigator, along with a PDF codebook and a user guide. Corresponding SAS and SPSS data definition statements were also added.

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