Sample Research Mini-Design
Several recent sociological studies have attempted to look at marital happiness. Smith (1990) conducted a study of 100 married couples in Iowa, and found that couples living on a rural farm were more satisfied with their marriage than were couples who lived in urban areas. Jones and White (1993) studied 76 married couples in New Orleans, and discovered that couples who attended a church together at least once a month were more happy in their marriage than were couples who attended church together less frequently than that. Black et al. (1995) studied 112 married couples in California who had been married one year or less. Their results showed a statistically significant correlation between marital satisfaction and whether the couple perceived themselves to have financial problems. Couples who perceived themselves to have marital problems were less happy with their marriage than couples who did not perceive themselves as having financial problems. What these studies of marital happiness have not examined, however, is whether the presence of children in the marriage influences marital happiness, or whether the age of a married couple has any bearing on marital happiness. [Note this last sentence explains the literature gap.]
Theory and Hypotheses
Existing studies reveal that geographic location, religion, and economics might influence marital happiness. However, one might expect that both the presence of children can influence marital happiness. One might argue that children give an increased sense of shared meaning and purpose to the marriage, which should translate into increased marital happiness. On the other hand, children can also be the cause of marital problems, such divisions over childrearing and discipline. I argue that children should on the whole bring a net gain in happiness rather than a net loss, because on balance, children bring new meaning and variety into a marriage.
One might also expect the age of a marital couple to influence marital happiness. Younger individuals have less life experience, and thus must necessarily be less certain sure of what they are seeking in a life partner. Yet at the same time, younger individuals are more likely to rush into a marriage in the naïve belief that they know what they are looking for in a life partner. Thus, younger individuals might decide on a marriage partner that they later regret choosing. Older individuals, however, having had a greater life experience, are hence have a greater understanding of what they are seeking in a life partner. Thus, one would expect that a choice of marriage partner by an older individual to be a more stable choice compared to the choice of marriage partner by a younger individual. Stability of such choice, of course, should lead to greater long-term satisfaction and hence happiness in the marriage.
These theories lead to the following two primary hypotheses that are the focus of the research here:
H1: The greater the number of children a married couple possesses, the more marital happiness the couple possesses.
H2: The older the average age of a married couple, the more marital happiness the couple possesses.
The following control hypotheses, based on findings from existing research studies, are used as well:
H3: Married couples living in rural areas have more marital happiness than married couples living in urban areas.
H4: The more frequently a married couple attends church together, the more marital happiness the couple possesses.
H5: The more sense of economic security a married couple possesses, the more marital happiness the couple possesses.
Unit of Analysis: A married couple
Dependent Variable: Marital Happiness
Conceptual Model Equation: HAPPY = CHILDREN + AGE + RURAL + CHURCH + FINANCES
HAPPY = average score of the married couple’s two individual responses to the question “On a scale of zero to ten, ten being totally happy, how much overall happiness with your marriage do you have?”; (0-10)
CHILDREN = number of children the couple currently possesses: (0-30)
AGE = average age in years of the married couple; (0-120)
RURAL= geographic location of residence; (0-1; 0= rural, 1=urban/suburban)
CHURCH= average number of days per month the couple attends church together; (0-31)
FINANCES= average score of the married couple’s two individual responses to the question “On a scale of zero to ten, ten being totally secure, how much overall financial security do you feel?” (0-10)
The data will be collected by a telephone-based opinion survey of 550 married couples nationwide using Random Digit Dialing. Given the relatively low cost of such a survey, and the likelihood that couples will be willing to participate by answering such relatively non-embarrassing questions, the study appears to be highly feasible. The data in the above model will then be analyzed using the statistical technique of linear regression.