Research Paper Rand Conger

Long-term Consequences of Economic Hardship on Romantic Relationships
Rand Conger (Affiliate in Human and Community Development) with graduate researcher April Masarik (Human and Community Development)

This project is a long-term study of a cohort of adolescents grown to adulthood. Participants entered the study during a significant economic downturn during the 1980s and have been negotiating the economic woes of the past decade as young adults.  This project evaluates the long-term consequences of economic hardship for the quality and stability of romantic relationships (married or cohabiting couples) for two generations in the same families: G1 parents of the cohort of over 500 adolescents (G2) and then those adolescents after they have grown to adulthood.

Data for the parent generation spans the period from 1989 to 1992 and data for the G2 generation involves the early adult years from 2001 to 2007. The overall goal of the project is to use latent growth curve analysis to: (a) examine changes in both economic pressure and romantic relationship quality and stability across multiple time points in the parent and child generations, (b) investigate both initial levels of, and changes in, economic pressure as a predictor of change in relationship quality and stability over time in the parent and child generations, and (c) to examine effective problem solving as a potential moderating variable in the association between economic pressure and romantic relationship quality and stability in the parent and child generations. That is, effective problem solving will be examined as a potential source of resilience in protecting against the adverse consequences of economic hardship.

There are several important features to this study that bode well in terms of making a substantial contribution to our current understanding of the health effects of poverty and economic hardship. First, marital distress and divorce are associated with clinically significant mental health problems and with long-term economic instability for both parents and children. Second, the study will trace these effects over a longer period of time than has been possible in earlier research. Third, this study will be the first to demonstrate whether economic problems have the same effects on relationship quality and stability across both middle-aged and young adult couples and to evaluate these processes across generations in the same families. That is, the project will attempt a within family replication which, if successful, will substantially increase confidence in the generalizability of the findings. Finally, if the results show that effective problem solving promotes resilience in the face of economic hardship, Conger and Masarik will have identified a teachable skill that can be used for purposes of intervention and policy.