become adults (Fingerman, 2000; Rossi and Rossi, 1990), and the quality of relationships with adult children is strongly associated with parent well-being (Ryff, Lee, Essex, and Schmutte, 1994). Marital satisfaction is also higher in older couples than their younger counterparts (Charles and Carstensen, 2002), and couples (ages 73-93) in a longitudinal study report increasing closeness over time (Field and Weishaus, 1992).
Of course, the positive side of social relations should not be overstated. There can be an important downside to the longevity of family ties, again related to their emotional quality. Although family relationships are, by and large, positive, they are not always so. Close relationships characterized by negative exchanges appear to hold deleterious physical and mental consequences. Over time, negative social exchanges have more potent and deleterious effects than the benefits of positive exchanges (Newsom, Nishishiba, Morgan, and Rook, 2003). Thus, the fact that families last a lifetime can have negative effects, as well as positive ones.
It is also important to keep in mind that even in the strongest relationships, special strains occur in later life, including caregiving and widowhood, and that these strains are different for women and men and experienced quite differently across ethnic groups. Not only does psychological strain accompany caregiving—fully half of all caregivers become clinically depressed (Gallagher, Rose, Rivera, Lovett, and Thompson, 1989)—but the risk of death in the caregiver also increases (Schulz and Beach, 1999). In addition, responsibilities often place severe restrictions on engagement in other activities, ranging from work to social engagement. Otherwise pleasurable activities are forgone so that caregivers can attend to their partners. Interestingly, activity restriction appears to mediate the relationship between caregiver burden and depressed affect even more than the direct physical demands of caregiving (Williamson, Shaffer, and Schulz, 1998). Social norms clearly affect who will become a caregiver and the nature of the caregiving experience. Wives and daughters are far more likely to assume caregiving roles (England, Keigher, Miller, and Linsk, 1991). When husbands do assume the caregiving role, they are more likely to hire professional aides to assist them; moreover, friends and neighbors are more likely to help a husband care for a wife than vice versa (Zarit, Orr, and Zarit, 1985). Among African Americans, beliefs in cultural norms about family care appear to reduce negative physical effects on the caregivers (Dilworth-Anderson, Goodwin, and Wallace, 2004).
The loss of very long-term relationships is common in old age: in 2000, 1.3 million people ages 65 and over had been widowed (representing 32.4 percent of this age group; U.S. Census Bureau, 2004b), and levels of well-being can be reduced for years after the death of a spouse (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, and Diener, 2003). Women are at much greater risk of being widowed, due to gender differences in life expectancy and the cultural