According to attachment theory, during interactions with their caregivers infants build their “internal working models”, which shape their perception and reflection of social information in their future life. Collins and Read (1994) propose a hierarchical model to illustrate adults’ multiple attachment models and the differences between the general attachment model and the relationship-specific attachment model. Because marital relationships play an important role in later life, an investigation of older adults’ marital attachment and its relationship with the general attachment formed during childhood would increase the understanding of life-span development of attachment. The Older Adults’ Marital Attachment Scale (OAMAS) was recently developed targeting both the specific relationship, as well as the specific age period, and the developers have demonstrated its applicability. However, more evidence is needed using different samples to prove its reliability and validity. As a result, the current study aimed, firstly, at validating the scale, and, secondly, at investigating the association between marital attachment and general attachment among older adults.
A total of 697 older adults, over 60 years old, dwelling in communities in Beijing participated in the current study. The participants completed the Older Adults’ Marital Attachment Scale (Zhai, et al., 2010), Relationship Questionnaire (Bartholomew &Horowitz, 1991), Marital Satisfaction subscale (Olson, Fournier, & Druckman, 1983), 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale (Burke, Roccaforte, & Wengel, 1991) and the Clock Drawing Test. After 86 of them with either dementia or depression were excluded, the final valid sample size was 611 participants. The cases were divided randomly into two subsets, one for exploratory factor analysis, and the other for confirmatory factor analysis. Cluster analysis and cross-tab analysis were then conducted on the total data. The SPSS 17.0 and Mplus 7.0 were used for analysis.
The main findings were as follows: (1) the final 15-item revised OAMAS showed a three-dimensional construct of attachment, namely anxiety, avoidance, and security; (2) the revised OAMAS exhibited acceptable reliability and good criterion-related validity; (3) the older adults’ marital attachment could be clustered into four types, including secure, preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. The secure and the preoccupied comprised the major marital attachment style with 43.9% and 22.9%, respectively; (4) with regard to general attachment, the majority included the secure and dismissing types; and (5) about 39.9% of the total sample presented identical attachment types between marital relationship and general relationship.
These results indicated that the three dimensioned Older Adults’ Marital Attachment Scale could be a desired measure in studies concerning marital attachment among older adults. In addition, general attachment shaped in early life might not robustly predict the specified attachment in such as marital relationship. From a developmental viewpoint, the moderate consistency between marital and general attachment styles in later life also suggested that the attachment is a contextual property, instead of a stable trait.