Date of Award:

2002

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Advisor/Chair:

Brent C. Miller

Abstract

Using a large national data set, this study was among the first to examine direct associations between parents' marital relationships and children's emotional, academic, and behavioral characteristics. The mediating effect of children's home environments, as well as relationships between children and parents, also were analyzed. The research design was longitudinal. Marital variables were measured in 1994, intervening variables in 1996, and children's outcome variables in 1998. It was expected that children would be influenced by three different aspects of their parents' marriage: marital happiness, marital interactions, and marital arguments. The parent/child relationship (parent/child closeness) and the children's home environments were expected to act as mediators between the marriage variables and child outcome variables. Because the focus of this study was to analyze how functioning between parents within marriage influences children, in order to add to, and not duplicate, research on marital dissolution and conflict, the three samples included only children whose parents had been continuously married since the children were born. Path analysis was used to determine if the data supported the hypothesis that marital relationships affect children's functioning and development. For the youngest group, ages 5 to 14, it was concluded that parents' marital happiness in 1994 was associated with fewer children's behavior problems and increased children's academic performance in 1998. For 12- to14-year-old children, the effects were similar, but smaller. In both cases, marital interaction did not seem to be related to child outcomes. The oldest group, ages 14-21 , was the least influenced by their parents' relationship. While the effect was somewhat small, the longitudinal nature of the analysis suggested that it is lasting. Results of the study varied significantly by race, and in some cases, by sex of the child. Future research should further analyze how marital relations influence children within different racial groups.

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