How much should a couple invest in themselves after having children?
The answer must be a lot because it is potentially one of the most important investments within a family.
While completing the responsibilities of parenting, parents often put their relationship on the back burner. Still, according to a new study, when spouses love each other, children stay in school longer and marry later in life.
The study suggests that a loving, stable, and responsive relationship with you is fundamental to your child’s development. It lets children learn how to think, understand, communicate, behave, show emotions, and develop social skills.
The study uses unique longitudinal measures from Nepal that allows scientists to link both mothers’ and fathers’ reports of their marital relationships with a subsequent long-term record of their children’s behaviors.
Co-author and U-M Institute for Social Research researcher William Axinn said, “In this study, we saw that parents’ emotional connection to each other affects child-rearing so much that it shapes their children’s future. The fact that we found these kinds of things in Nepal moves us a step closer to evidence that these things are universal.”
The study uses data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study in Nepal. The survey launched in 1995 and collected 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?”
Scientists then followed the children of these parents for a dozen years to document their education and marital behaviors. They found that children whose parents report strong marital affection and less spousal conflict attain higher levels of education and marry later than children whose parents do not.
Lead author Sarah Brauner-Otto, director of the Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University, said, “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 essential for understanding the depth of family influence on children.”
Axinn said, “Nepal provides an important backdrop to study how familial relationships shape children’s lives. 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.”
Scientists are further planning to investigate why parental love impacts children in this way. They 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 marriages. Children may also view their parents as role models and take longer to seek similar marriages.
Scientists also considered other factors that shape a married couple’s relationship and their children’s transition to adulthood. The factors are caste-ethnicity; access to schools; whether the parents had an arranged marriage; the childbearing of the parents; and whether the parents had experience living outside their own families, possibly being influenced by Western ideas of education and courtship.
Axinn said, “The result that these measures of love have independent consequences is also important. Love is not irrelevant; variations in parental love do have a consequence.“
The study was conducted by the University of Michigan in collaboration with McGill University in Quebec. It is published in the journal Demography.