Behavior Genetics

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 114–123 | Cite as

Gender Differences in Marital Status Moderation of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Subjective Health

  • Deborah Finkel
  • Carol E. Franz
  • Briana Horwitz
  • Kaare Christensen
  • Margaret Gatz
  • Wendy Johnson
  • Jaako Kaprio
  • Tellervo Korhonen
  • Jenae Niederheiser
  • Inge Petersen
  • Richard J. Rose
  • Karri Silventoinen
Original Research


From the IGEMS Consortium, data were available from 26,579 individuals aged 23 to 102 years on 3 subjective health items: self-rated health (SRH), health compared to others (COMP), and impact of health on activities (ACT). Marital status was a marker of environmental resources that may moderate genetic and environmental influences on subjective health. Results differed for the 3 subjective health items, indicating that they do not tap the same construct. Although there was little impact of marital status on variance components for women, marital status was a significant modifier of variance in all 3 subjective health measures for men. For both SRH and ACT, single men demonstrated greater shared and nonshared environmental variance than married men. For the COMP variable, genetic variance was greater for single men vs. married men. Results suggest gender differences in the role of marriage as a source of resources that are associated with subjective health.


Subjective health Marital status Age differences Gender differences GxE interaction Moderation model 



IGEMS is supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant No. R01 AG037985. SATSA was supported by Grants R01 AG04563, R01 AG10175, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging, the Swedish Council For Working Life and Social Research (FAS) (97:0147:1B, 2009-0795) and Swedish Research Council (825-2007-7460, 825-2009-6141). OCTO-Twin was supported by grant R01 AG08861. TOSS was supported by Grant R01 MH54610 from the National Institute of Health. The Danish Twin Registry is supported by grants from The National Program for Research Infrastructure 2007 from the Danish Agency for Science and Innovation, the Velux Foundation and the US National Institute of Health (P01 AG08761). The Minnesota Twin Study of Adult Development and Aging was supported by NIA Grant R01 AG 06886. VETSA was supported by National Institute of Health Grants NIA R01 AG018384, R01 AG018386, R01 AG022381, and R01 AG022982, and, in part, with resources of the VA San Diego Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health. The Cooperative Studies Program of the Office of Research & Development of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has provided financial support for the development and maintenance of the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. MIDUS twin study was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development and by National Institute on Aging Grant AG20166. Data collection and analyses in the Finnish twin cohort have been supported by ENGAGE—European Network for Genetic and Genomic Epidemiology, FP7-HEALTH-F4-2007, grant agreement number 201413, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grants AA-12502, AA-00145, and AA-09203 to R J Rose), and the Academy of Finland (Grants 100499, 205585, 118555, 141054, 265240, 263278 and 264146 to J. Kaprio). The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIA/NIH, or the VA.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

Research at each site was conducted according to the applicable rules of research involving human participants. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.


  1. Bailis DS, Segall A, Chipperfield JG (2003) Two view of self-rated general health status. Soc Sci Med 56:203–217PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bardage C, Pluijm SMF, Pedersen NL, Deeg DJH, Jylhä M, Noale M, Otero Á (2005) Self-rated health among older adults: a cross-national comparison. Eur J Ageing 2:149–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benyamini Y (2011) Why does self-rated health predict mortality? An update on current knowledge and a research agenda for psychologists. Psychol Health 26:1407–1413PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benyamini Y, Blumstein T, Lusky A, Modan B (2003) Gender differences in the self-rated health–mortality association: is it poor self-rated health that predicts mortality or excellent self-rated health that predicts survival? Gerontologist 43:396–405PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carr D, Springer KW (2010) Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. J Marriage Fam 72:743–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chipperfield JG, Havens B (2001) Gender differences in the relationship between marital status transitions and life satisfaction in later life. J Gerontol Psychol Sci 56B:P176–P186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Christensen K, Holm NV, McGue M, Corder L, Vaupel JW (1999) A Danish population-based twin study on general health in the elderly. J Aging Health 11:49–64PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Deeg DJH, Kriegsman DMW (2003) Concepts of self-rated health: specifying the gender difference in mortality risk. Gerontologist 43:376–386PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dykstra PA, de Jong Gierveld J (1994) The theory of mental incongruity, with a specific application to loneliness among widowed men and women. In: Erber R, Gilmour R (eds) Theoretical frameworks in personal relationships. Erlbaum Associates Inc, Hillsdale, NJ, pp 235–259Google Scholar
  10. Dykstra PA, Fokkema T (2007) Social and emotional loneliness among divorced and married men and women: comparing deficit and cognitive perspectives. Basic Appl Soc Psychol 29:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Finkel D, McGue M (1993) The origins of individual differences in memory among the elderly: a behavior genetic analysis. Psychol Aging 8:527–537PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Finkel D, Pedersen NL (2004) Processing speed and longitudinal trajectories of change for cognitive abilities: the Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging. Aging Neuropsychol Cogn 11:325–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Finkel D, Franz CE, Horwitz B. for the IGEMS Consortium (2014) Marital status moderates gender differences in genetic and environmental influences on subjective health. Gerontologist 54(S2):647 [abstract]Google Scholar
  14. Franz CE, Finkel D, Panizzon MS, Spoon K, Christensen K, Gatz M, et al. (2015). Genetic and environmental influences on the many facets of subjective health from early adulthood to old age. J Aging Health (in press)Google Scholar
  15. Gatz M, Reynolds CA, Finkel D, Hahn C, Zhou Y, Zavala C (2015) Data harmonization in aging research: not so fast. Exp Aging Res (in press)Google Scholar
  16. Idler EL, Benyamini Y (1997) Self-rated health and mortality: a review of twenty-seven community studies. J Health Soc Behav 38:21–37PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jylhä M (2009) What is self-rated health and why does it predict mortality? Towards a unified conceptual model. Soc Sci Med 69:307–316PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jylhä M (2010) Self-rated health between psychology and biology. A response to Huisman and Deeg. Soc Sci Med 70:655–657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kaprio J, Koskenvuo M (2002) Genetic and environmental factors in complex diseases: the older Finnish Twin Cohort. Twin Res 5:358–365PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaprio J, Koskenvu M, Hell R (1987) Mortality after bereavement: a prospective study of 95, 647 widowed persons. Am J Public Health 77:283–287PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaprio J, Pulkkinen L, Rose RJ (2002) Genetic and environmental factors in health-related behaviors: studies on Finnish twins and twin families. Twin Res 5:366–371PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kremen WS, Thompson-Brenner H, Leung YJ, Grant MD, Franz CE, Eisen SA, Lyons MJ (2006) Genes, environment, and time: The Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA). Twin Res Hum Genet 9:1009–1022PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Latham K, Peek CW (2013) Self-rated health and morbidity onset among late midlife U.S. adults. J Gerontol B 68:107–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Liu H, Umberson D (2008) The times they are a changin’: marital status and health differentials from 1972 to 2003. J Health Soc Behav 49:239–253PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Manderbacka K, Kåreholt I, Martikainen P, Lundberg O (2003) The effect of point of reference on the association between self-rated health and mortality. Soc Sci Med 56:1447–1452PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Manzolo L, Villari P, Pirone GM, Boccia A (2007) Marital status and moralit in the elderly: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Soc Sci Med 6:77–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McClearn GE, Johansson B, Berg S, Pedersen NL, Ahern F, Petrill SA, Plomin R (1997) Substantial genetic influence on cognitive abilities in twins 80 or more years old. Science 276:1560–1563PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McFadden E, Luben R, Bingham S, Wareham N, Kinmonth A-L, Khaw K-T (2009) Does the association between self-rated health and mortality vary by social class? Soc Sci Med 68:275–280PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Neale MC, Boker SM, Xie G, Maes HH (2003) Mx: statistical modeling. Department of Psychiatry, VCU, RichmondGoogle Scholar
  30. Neiderheiser JM, Lichtenstein P (2008) The Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden: advancing our understanding of genotype-environment interplay by studying twins and their families. Acta Psychologica Sinica 40:1116–1123Google Scholar
  31. Osler M, McGue M, Lund R, Christensen K (2008) Marital status and twins’ health and behavior: an analysis of middle-aged Danish twins. Psychosom Med 70:482–487PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pedersen NL, Christensen K, Dahl A, Finkel D, Franz CE, Gatz M, Reynolds CA (2013) IGEMS: the consortium on interplay of genes and environment across multiple studies. Twin Res Hum Genet 16:481–489PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Purcell S (2002) Variance components models for gene-environment interaction in twin analysis. Twin Res Hum Genet 5:554–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Robles TF, Kiecolt-Glaser JK (2003) The physiology of marriage: pathways to health. Physiol Behav 79:409–416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rosenthal C (1985) Kinkeeping in the familial division of labor. J Marriage Fam 47:965–974CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sainio P, Koskinen S, Heliovaara M, Martelin T, Harkanen T, Hurri H, Aromaa A (2006) Self-reported and test-based mobility limitations in a representative sample of Finns aged 30. Scand J Public Health 34:378–386PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Silventoinen K, Moustgaarid H, Peltonen R, Martikainen P (2013) Changing associations between partnership history and risk of accidents, violence and suicides. J Epidemiol Community Health 67:265–270PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. South SC, Krueger RF (2012) Genetic strategies for probing conscientiousness and its relationship to aging. Dev Psychol 50:1362–1376PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sprangers MAG, Schwartz CE (1999) Integrating response shift into health-related quality of life research: a theoretical model. Soc Sci Med 48:1507–1515PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Subramanian SV, Kubzansky L, Berkman L, Fay M, Kawachi I (2006) Neighborhood effects on the self-rated health of elders: uncovering the relative importance of structural and service-related neighborhood environments. J Gerontol Soc Sci 61B:S153–S160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Trumbetta SL, Markowitz EM, Gottesman II (2007) Marriage and genetic variation across the lifespan: not a steady relationship? Behav Genet 37:362–375PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Van der Sluis S, Dolan CV, Neale MC, Posthuma D (2008) A general test for gene-environment interaction in sib pair-based association analysis of quantitative traits. Behav Genet 38:372–389PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Vuorisalmi M, Lintonen T, Jylhä M (2006) Comparative vs global self-rated health: associations with age and functional ability. Aging Clin Exp Res 18:211–217PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Waite L, Gallagher M (2000) The case for marriage: why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. Doubleday, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Waite L, Laumann EO, Das A, Schumm LP (2009) Sexuality: measures of partnerships, practices, attitudes, and problems in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Study. J Gerontol Soc Sci 64:56–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ware JE, Kosinski M, Keller SD (1994) SF-36 physical and mental health summary scales: a users’ manual. The Health Institute, BostonGoogle Scholar
  47. Weaver DA (2010) Widows and social security. Soc Secur Bull 70:89–109PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Williams K, Umberson D (2004) Marital status, marital transitions, and health: a gendered life course perspective. J Health Soc Behav 45:81–98PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zheng H, Thomas PA (2013) Marital status, self-rated health, and mortality: overestimation of health or diminishing protection of marriage? J Health Soc Behav 54:128–143PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Finkel
    • 1
  • Carol E. Franz
    • 2
  • Briana Horwitz
    • 3
  • Kaare Christensen
    • 4
  • Margaret Gatz
    • 5
  • Wendy Johnson
    • 6
  • Jaako Kaprio
    • 7
    • 8
  • Tellervo Korhonen
    • 7
    • 8
    • 9
  • Jenae Niederheiser
    • 10
  • Inge Petersen
    • 4
  • Richard J. Rose
    • 11
  • Karri Silventoinen
    • 7
  1. 1.Indiana University SoutheastNew AlbanyUSA
  2. 2.University of California, San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.California State University, FullertonFullertonUSA
  4. 4.University of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  5. 5.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  6. 6.University of EdinburghEdinburghScotland
  7. 7.University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  8. 8.National Institute for Health and WelfareHelsinkiFinland
  9. 9.University of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  10. 10.Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  11. 11.Indiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations