Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more likely to be in a happy marriage when they’re older.
Findings from a recent study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that a nurturing childhood could pave the way for a secure marriage later in life.
According to researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School, loving families play a big role in helping children develop certain social and emotional skills that can help them in their relationships decades later.
Better emotional management
To conduct the study, Waldinger and his colleagues studied 81 men for over six decades, beginning when they were teens. Half of the men went to Harvard; the others were from inner-city Boston.
The researchers gathered information on participants’ early home environment through questioning, interviews with their parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.
By the time the men reached middle age, the researchers discovered that those who had grown up in caring homes were better at managing stress. This important ability was found to come in handy in participants’ marriages.
“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 Waldinger.
“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.”
It’s no surprise that the effects of a happy childhood can be felt within a marriage, but these findings show just how long-lasting the effects can be.
Having a happy home life as a kid can have "far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," Waldinger said.
The study’s co-author, Marc Schulz, a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, adds that it is “remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen” decades after adolescence.
Dr. Waldinger's TED talk on the study can be viewed here