Sleep As a Potential Mediator Between Marital Status, Marital Relationship Quality and Health

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: F205
Oral Presentation
Sara ARBER , Sociology, University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom
Robert MEADOWS , University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom
A wealth of literature suggests a link between marital status and health.  Consistently, and across populations, evidence has shown that married people live longer, happier, and healthier lives than their unmarried counterparts.  However, much of this literature has conflated marital status with marital quality and nearly all studies have ignored the role of sleep as a potential mediator.

This paper examines the following research questions: (1) How is marital status and marital relationship quality associated with health in the UK? (2) How do marital status and marital relationship quality influence sleep? (3) To what extent does sleep mediate any link between marital status, marital relationship quality and health, and how does any mediation by sleep differ by gender? 

The paper analyses data from a nationally representative UK survey (Understanding Society, n=34421), 2009-10. Mediation models are run using SPSS.  The independent variable is a derived variable which merges marital status with a ‘perceived quality of relationship’ scale (giving the categories, 'single'; ' married and in unhappy relationship'; 'married and in happy relationship'; 'separated but legally married'; 'divorced'; 'widowed'; 'lives with partner and unhappy’; 'lives with partner and happy').  The dependent variable is self-reported health. 

Findings highlight how it is not just the ‘form’ that marital status takes, but also the quality of the relationship.  Being in an unhappy cohabiting relationship, for example, has a greater negative impact on health than being in a happy cohabiting relationship.  Sleep acts as a significant mediator of the link between marital status/marital quality and health – even when controlling for other mediators; such as subjective financial well-being and number of children. The role that sleep plays as a mediator differs for men and women.  This is most notable for those who are divorced, where sleep takes on a greater role in the pathway for women.