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Marital Satisfaction, Recovery from Work, and Diurnal Cortisol Among Men and Women

Darby E. Saxbe


Rena L. Repetti


Adrienne Nishina

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 56


Despite documented links between chronic stress, relationship quality, and health outcomes in married men and women, naturalistic cortisol research focusing on this population has been inconclusive. In a sample of sixty married, employed adults (30 men, 30 women) who sampled saliva over three days, multilevel modeling was used to explore relationships between marital satisfaction, daily work experiences, and two possible indicators of allostatic load, diurnal cortisol rhythm and evening cortisol levels. Among women but not men, marital satisfaction was significantly associated with a stronger basal cortisol cycle, with higher morning values and a steeper decline across the day. For women but not men, marital satisfaction appeared to moderate the within-subjects association between afternoon and evening cortisol level, suggesting that marital quality may be implicated in women’s physiological recovery from work. For both men and women, evening cortisol was lower than usual on higher-workload days, and marital satisfaction appeared to augment this association among women. Men showed higher evening cortisol after more distressing social experiences at work, an association that was strongest among men with higher marital satisfaction.

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