Do Family Relationships Buffer the Impact of Disability on Older Adults’ Daily Mood? An Exploration of Gender and Marital Status Differences


We evaluate whether non-spousal family support and strain moderate the effect of disability on older adults' daily frustration and happiness, and whether these patterns differ by gender and marital status.

Stress buffering perspectives predict that harmful effects of stress on well-being are buffered by family support, whereas stress proliferation models suggest effects are intensified by family strain. The extent to which family relationships moderate these associations may vary on the basis of gender and marital status, as non-spousal family ties are considered especially salient for women and unpartnered persons.

Data are from the 2013 Disability and Use of Time supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (nā€‰=ā€‰1,474), a national sample of adults ages 60+. Multivariate regression models are estimated for married/partnered men and women, and formerly married women.

Neither family support nor strain moderated the effect of severe impairment on married men's emotions. Family support buffered the effect of impairment on frustration among divorced and widowed women, but not their married counterparts. Counterintuitively, family arguments reduced frustration and increased happiness among married women with severe impairment.

Consistent with stress buffering perspectives, family support was most protective for the vulnerable population of formerly married older women with severe impairment.

This study underscores the importance of family support for formerly married women managing health-related challenges in later life.