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Exploring Relationship Satisfaction in Older Adults with Diabetes Using Descriptive Epidemiology

Alexandra C.H. Nowakowski, PhD, MPH, J.E. Sumerau, PhD


Objectives. We descriptively analyze patterns in relationship satisfaction among partnered older Americans with and without diabetes. We use data from the National Social, Health, and Life Project (NSHAP) to explore overall happiness as well as physical and emotional satisfaction with intimate relationships, and variation in these patterns by sociodemographic characteristics.

Research Design and Methods. We use epidemiological contingency tables to explore three research questions. First, how does overall relationship satisfaction vary among older adults with and without diabetes?  Second, how does relationship satisfaction vary across these groups in physical and emotional domains? Third, what role might intersectional socio-demographic characteristics play in these patterns?

Results. We found that older NSHAP participants with diabetes are very similar overall to their peers without diabetes with respect to relationship satisfaction. This pattern was consistent for overall happiness with intimate relationships as well as physical and emotional satisfaction. However, among people with diabetes we observed striking sex differences in overall happiness that became more dramatic for the physical and emotional satisfaction measures. We also observed modest differences by race and education that may intersect with the strong gender disparities we saw in our data.

Conclusions. We contextualize our findings with prior research on diabetes and partnership to conclude that exploration of the relationships between gender, sexuality, health, and romance in the lives and relationships of people with diabetes may be a necessary and fruitful avenue of future research. To this end, we suggest threads for future inquiry on diabetes and intimate relationships among older adults.

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