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Relationship Strengths in Married Families: Effects of Marital Quality and Parent-Adolescent Relationships on Outcomes for Adolescents and Young Adults

Principal Investigators:
Kelleen Kaye, NORC
Elizabeth Hair, Child Trends
Kristen Moore, Child Trends
Randal D. Day, Brigham Young University
Dennis K. Orthner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



Available research suggests that the parent-adolescent relationship and parent marital quality are each important factors in adolescent development.  This study extends upon this research by using nationally representative, longitudinal data, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort (NLSY-97), to examine how parent marital quality and parent-adolescent relationships in married couple families influence a range of adolescent and youth well-being outcomes.  The study also controls for a range of marital, family, adolescent and environmental characteristics in these analyses.

The primary study hypothesis is that adolescents reporting high parent marital quality and positive relationships with their parents will have more positive mental health, physical health, substance use, sexual activity, religious activity, and education outcomes during late adolescence and young adulthood than adolescents reporting less positive marital and parent-adolescent relationships.  An additional study hypothesis is that adolescents who experience poor parent marital quality and poor parent-adolescent relationship quality will have the poorest outcomes.  The study uses latent class analysis to determine the marital relationship quality profiles and latent growth class analyses to determine the profiles for the parent-adolescent relationship.

Overview of Findings

The findings support the hypothesis that family relationships matter for adolescents and young adults. Specifically, parent-marital quality combined with parent-adolescent relationship quality are related to physical health, mental health, substance use, sexual activity, and religious activity outcomes during middle adolescence and, to a lesser extent, early adulthood.  In particular, adolescents who do not have good relationships with both of their parents and do not report positive parent marital quality are quite consistently at greater risk for negative well-being outcomes in adolescence and for several outcomes in early adulthood.  Compared with the group enjoying positive marital and parent/adolescent relationships, most other groups of adolescents appeared to fare poorly on health, substance use, sexual activity, and religious activity, and no group fared better.  These results are particularly strong for physical and mental health.  Youth living in families with two biological parents compared to one biological parent and a step parent experienced positive outcomes related to more religious attendance during adolescence and better academic and sexual behavior outcomes as a young adult.  In contrast, youth who were in families that experienced a marital disruption between 1997 and 1999 experienced unfavorable outcomes in adolescence, and to some extent as a young adult.  Religious attendance was found to be consistently associated with better outcomes in middle adolescence and early adulthood.  Furthermore, this research offers preliminary evidence that parental marital quality and positive parent-adolescent relationships with both mothers and fathers are important to well-being outcomes later in adolescence and extending in some cases even into early adulthood.  In addition to the reports, the analytic data set with the SAS code used to create the variables and the variable codebook are available.


The following publications are or will be available: