“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 one of the researchers, Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School.
The findings show that men who grew up in caring homes were more adept at managing stressful emotions when assessed as middle-aged adults, which helps to explain why they had more secure marriages late in life.
“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 said.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, followed the same individuals for over six decades beginning in adolescence, and provides evidence for the life-long effects of childhood experiences.
“With all the things that happen to human beings and influence them between adolescence and the ninth decade of life, it’s remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen,” study co-author Marc Schulz, Professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, said.
Waldinger and Schulz examined data collected from 81 men who participated in a 78-year study of adult development.
All of the men completed regular interviews and questionnaires throughout the course of the study.
The researchers found that participants who had a nurturing family environment early in life were more likely to have secure attachments to their romantic partners late in life.
These results add to previous research showing that the quality of people’s early home environments can have “far-reaching effects on wellbeing, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan,” Waldinger said.