New Project Looks at Relationship of Older Adults 

The percentage of the population 60 and older has grown from nearly 14 percent to 20 percent over the last 50 years. But a more striking trend is that many—a full third—live by themselves. 

America is graying and living alone.

Enter Lisa Neff, an associate professor in Human Development and Family Sciences. Neff’s work focuses on marriage: why some relationships thrive or fail, and the role that stress plays in a marriage’s longevity. Stress, for example, disproportionately affects lower-income couples, suggesting that interventions that reduce stress might lead to healthier marriages. 

“When couples are under stress, their relationship skills fall apart,” says Neff. “The effect of stress on marriage might be bigger than the personalities of the partners, which means that training in stress management could be more beneficial than other interventions.”

Want to participate?
Neff’s Austin Marriage Project is looking for people 60 years and older who’ve been married for 10 years or are “keeping company” or dating. She also needs 30- to 45-year-olds who are dating. Email:

A few years ago, Neff noticed a paucity of research on relationships among older adults. She recently designed a research project to look at how relationships change over the lifespan given that external stresses exist at any age. There is an assumption that older people shift to preserving harmony in the face of adversity, but little research has been done to determine if this is absolutely true among different types of relationships, from couples dating to married. 

“Why is it so important to look at relationships in older adults?” asks Neff, rhetorically. “Health! Research shows that married patients are twice as likely to survive a cancer diagnosis. But with an increasingly unmarried population, it would be interesting to see if the same health benefit can be seen among those dating.”