The development of gendered health-related support dynamics over the course of a marriage

Academic Article


  • For married adults with chronic illnesses or functional limitations, informal support from a spouse is often essential for their well-being, but support around health issues is not confined to later life. Attention to processes of support throughout the entire intimate relationship can provide insight into support dynamics in later life. Additionally, health-related support from a spouse tends to be gendered with women providing more support. Our analysis of relationship timeline interviews with 23 older adult couples demonstrates that these gendered support dynamics develop and are sustained throughout a marriage. We identify three patterns of support: (1) acknowledged gender inequality in support in which women readily provided support when their husbands had health issues but men provided support less consistently for their wives‘ health issues throughout the relationship; (2) mutual support in which both spouses provided support for the other whenever there were health needs; and (3) independence, in which men and women provided relatively little support to one another, viewing each other as responsible for their own health and well-being. These support patterns are established early within marriages and continue as health issues intensify. These patterns of spousal support are linked to broader systems of gender inequality and societal messages about gender. Our study moves away from conceptualizations of support provisions around health issues as only being situated in later life. We instead show how dynamics of support are developed and normalized throughout a marriage and suggest that spousal support studies should take into account long-term marital dynamics.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Thomeer MB; Ostergren Clark K
  • Start Page

  • 153
  • End Page

  • 169
  • Volume

  • 33
  • Issue

  • 2