Older men raised in caring families might have more secure marriages in late life, researchers say.
“Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians,” said Robert Waldinger, of Harvard Medical School in Boston. But the study did not prove that a nurturing childhood caused marriages to be more stable late in life.
He and his colleagues looked at data on 81 men in the United States who took part in a long-term study, beginning when they were teens. Half went to Harvard, while the others were from inner-city Boston.
Those who grew up in a warm family environment were better at managing stress when they were middle-aged, according to the study authors. This helps explain why they had more stable marriages later in life, the researchers said.
The results were recently published in the journal Psychological Science.
“We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life,” Waldinger explained in a journal news release.
The findings add to previous research showing that home life during childhood can have “far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan,” Waldinger said.
Considering all the years and events between adolescence and the ninth decade, study co-author Marc Schulz says it’s “remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen.” He is a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
The researchers said the findings highlight the importance of childhood well-being. Also, helping children manage their emotions effectively can lessen the impact of early childhood adversity, they said.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offers parenting resources.
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