In this paper, we present findings from a recent national study of elderly persons in Israel which cover two related questions: I. How do spouses' characteristics and activities affect the social participation of married older men and women? 2. Is the effect of husbands' characteristics and activities on wives equivalent or symmetrical to that of wives' characteristics and activities on husbands? The study is based on analyses of data collected in the Israel Survey of Persons Aged 60 and Over in Households, 1985, a national sample survey of households conducted by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics which included approximately 4,500 persons age 60 and over. An innovation of our study has been the design of a data file which enables us to study the activities, role incumbency, and participation of the respondents in relation to the characteristics and activities of their spouses.
We study the performance by husbands and wives of social roles designated as ‘major commitment’ roles (MCRs), in that they are roles performed in social contexts invoving commitments over time to the activity and to the social units in which they are carried out: (a) employment, (b) continued parenting involving assistance to adult children, (c) full housekeeping, and (d) volunteer activity. Characteristics and roles of the wives of older married male respondents, and of the husbands of older married female respondents in Israel, are significantly associated with the respondents' performance of the MCRs which we have identified. However, the ‘marginal effects coefficients’ based on logistic regression equations show that the relative weight of spouses' characteristics and roles is small compared with that of the respondents' own characteristics and other competing or mutually supportive roles. There are both symmetries and assymmetries in the patterns of effects of husbands' and wives' characteristics and roles on prevalences of MCRs among the older married respondents.