Parents are often guilty of putting their own relationship on hold while they focus time, attention, and other resources on raising their children. That may be a dire mistake, according to new research based in Nepal, where a team of Canadian and American researchers discovered that self-reported parental affection was associated with children’s greater educational attainment and later marriage.
For their analysis, the researchers used survey data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study, which began in 1995 in the Western Chitwan Valley region of Nepal. Married couples were asked (separately but simultaneously) to rate the “level of affection they had for their partner” by answering the question, “How much do you love your (husband/wife)? Very much, some, a little, or not at all?” The researchers then followed the children of these couples for 12 years, to determine what impact their parents’ relationship had on their own life trajectory. “We find,” the researchers summarize, “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.”
“Family isn’t just another institution,” reported lead researcher Sarah Brauner-Otto. “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.”
The researchers’ next task is to determine how, exactly, parental love operates to help children delay marriage and earn more education. They “speculate that when parents love each other, they tend to invest more in their children, leading to children remaining in education longer.” In addition, the researchers also posit that when home lives are happier, children are less likely to want to “escape” to their own marriages too early, and also more likely to view their parents’ high-quality marriage as something worth waiting to achieve.
Whatever the reason, the implications are clear. In Nepal—which still has a high rate of arranged marriages, and where most children have fewer years of formal education—the impact of a loving marriage on children is clear. Parents around the world would do well to heed this advice, and put in the effort to make their own marriages more loving.
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