When shaping children’s lives, the love between parents is key to long term outcomes

by Freya Lucas

February 14

While parents can often find it difficult to make time to nurture their relationship once they become parents, researchers from the University of Michigan have found that those who are able to maintain a loving and healthy relationship have children who stay engaged with education for longer, and marry later in life. 

 

The research will be of interest to those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, and allied sectors, as they seek to support children and families to engage in a supportive and kind way with one another. 

 

Research about the way that affection between parents affects children’s long term outcomes is rare because the data demands are high. To conduct this new study, researchers used unique data from families in Nepal to produce new evidence. 

 

The study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Michigan and McGill University in Quebec, was published in the journal Demography.

 

During the study, researchers observed the emotional connection between parents, and how this, in turn affects child rearing to such a degree that it shapes the future of a child. 

 

Using data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study in Nepal, which launched in 1995, collecting information from 151 neighborhoods in the Western Chitwan Valley. Married couples were interviewed simultaneously but separately, and were asked to assess the level of affection they had for their partner. The spouses answered “How much do you love your (husband/wife)? Very much, some, a little, or not at all?”

 

Researchers then followed the children of those parents for 12 years to document their education and marital behaviours. They found that the children of parents who reported they loved each other either “some” or “very much” stayed in school longer and married later.

 

Lead author Sarah Brauner – Otto emphasised the importance of family, saying “family isn’t just another institution. It’s not like a school or employer. It is this place where we also have emotions and feelings,”

 

“Demonstrating and providing evidence that love, this emotional component of family, also has this long impact on children’s lives is really important for understanding the depth of family influence on children.”

 

Nepal is an interesting backdrop against which to study how familial relationships shape children’s lives, researchers said.Historically, in Nepal, parents arranged their children’s marriage, and divorce was rare. Since the 1970s, that has been changing, with more couples marrying for love, and divorce still rare, but becoming more common.

 

Education has also become more widespread since the 1970s. In Nepal, children begin attending school at age five, and complete secondary school after grade 10, when they can take an exam to earn their “School-Leaving Certificate (SLC).” 

 

Fewer than 3 per cent of ever-married women aged 15-49 had earned an SLC in 1996, while nearly a quarter of women earned an SLC in 2016. Thirty-one percent of men earned SLCs in 2011. By 2016, 36.8 per cent of men had.

 

The researchers say that their next important question will be to identify why parental love impacts children in this way. The researchers speculate that when parents love each other, they tend to invest more in their children, leading to children remaining in education longer. 

 

The children’s home environments may also be happier when parents report loving each other, so the children may be less likely to escape into their own marriages. Children may also view their parents as role models, and take longer to seek similar marriages.

 

Those who are interested in reading the full study may do so here

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