Sleep as a potential mediator between marital status, marital relationship quality and health

Publication type

Conference Paper


Sara Arber and Robert Meadows

Publication date

Series Number



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.


Family Formation And Dissolution and Health