Separating Parents Sentencing Their Children To Death
Quote #1: In an eight-decade study, parental divorce in childhood was the strongest predictor of early death in adulthood.
Quote #2: The early death of a parent had no measurable effect on children’s life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health effects of broken families were often devastating. Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.
How to Keep Going and Going
In an eight-decade study, parental divorce in childhood was the strongest
predictor of early death in adulthood.
By Laura Landro
What can 1,500 Americans born a century ago, most of them long dead, tell
us about the secret to a long life? Plenty, according to Howard S. Friedman
and Leslie R. Martin, two psychologists who, in “The Longevity Project,”
mine an eight-decade research effort for answers to the kinds of questions
that sent Ponce de LeÃƒÂ³n searching for the Fountain of Youth.
There are no magic potions on offer here, but many of the findings are
provocative. The best childhood predictor of longevity, it turns out, is a
quality best defined as conscientiousness: “the often complex pattern of
persistence, prudence, hard work, close involvement with friends and
communities” that produces a well-organized person who is “somewhat
obsessive and not at all carefree.”
The study was initiated in 1921 by Stanford University psychologist Lewis
Terman, who asked San Francisco teachers to pick out their brightest
students – most were about 10 years old – to help him try to identify early
glimmers of high potential. Terman was most interested in intellectual
achievement (his revision of Alfred Binet’s intelligence scale produced the
Stanford-Binet IQ test), but his interviews were so detailed that the
results could be used as a basis for studying the respondents’ lives in
follow-up interviews across the years. Terman himself died in 1956, just
shy of 80; after his death his work was picked up by others, with Mr.
Friedman and Ms. Martin launching their portion of the project in 1990.
The study’s participants, dubbed Terman’s Termites, were bright students,
but having a high IQ didn’t seem to play a direct role in longevity.
Neither did going on to an advanced degree. The authors suggest that
persistence and the ability to navigate life’s challenges were better
predictors of longevity.
Some of the findings in “The Longevity Project” are surprising, others are
troubling. Cheerful children, alas, turned out to be shorter-lived than
their more sober classmates. The early death of a parent had no measurable
effect on children’s life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health
effects of broken families were often devastating. Parental divorce during
childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in
adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years
earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of
death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and
stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most
traumatic and harmful events for children.
“The Longevity Project” is short on actual statistics, asserting instead
broad trends among its study subjects and leaving readers to search through
footnotes and then track down published studies if they want to learn more.
With its relatively small sample and retrospective design, it hardly
reaches the level of large population-based scientific investigations like
the Framingham Heart Study, which followed thousands of participants for
decades to identify common factors that contribute to cardiovascular
disease, or the Women’s Health Study, a 10-year randomized, double-blind,
placebo-controlled study of nearly 40,000 women age 45 and older.
Mr. Friedman and Ms. Martin do claim to have used accepted
scientific-validation methods to confirm that their findings can be
extrapolated for a general understanding of health and longevity. But their
results are based mostly on sifting participants’ self-reported data, with
death certificates providing the only verifiable information: age and cause
of death. Data on factors like genetic predisposition to disease weren’t
Moreover, the study’s subjects lived most of their lives in a dramatically
different time, before AIDS threatened longevity and before medical
advances such as angioplasty and the development of cholesterol drugs came
along to improve life-span. The respondents were almost uniformly white
children from middle-class families, so the results don’t tell us much
about the longevity of other groups. And many of the girl students did not
go on to have careers, so “The Longevity Project” focuses on men when it
discusses workplace matters and their role in long-term health.
The book offers quizzes so that readers can assess various qualities – such
as sociability, neuroticism and the tendency to “catastrophize” – and
compare the results with those of Terman’s Termites. The respondents to the
study who fared best in the longevity sweepstakes tended to have a fairly
high level of physical activity, a habit of giving back to the community, a
thriving and long-running career, and a healthy marriage and family life.
They summoned resilience against reverses and challenges – including
divorce, loss of a spouse, career upsets and war trauma. By contrast, those
with the darkest dispositions – catastrophizers, who viewed every stumble
as a calamity – were most likely to die sooner. (The book doesn’t say by
what margin; a study published in 1998 reported that men in the Terman
group were 25% more likely to die by age 65 if they were catastrophizers.)
And what about those cheerful, relatively doomed kids? The authors tell us
that, later in life, such children would be more likely than their peers to
throw caution to the wind when it came to life-shortening habits like
smoking, drinking and driving fast cars. The chipper types were also more
likely to die from homicide, suicide or accident. Of course, the authors
don’t suggest telling happy kids to wipe the grins off their faces, but Mr.
Friedman and Ms. Martin do make a case for instilling values such as
forethought and purposefulness. Indeed, “The Longevity Project” is not just
an exercise in numbers-crunching; its larger aim seems to be to improve
public health by encouraging a society with more goal-oriented and
conscientious citizens. Now that’s a long-term project.
Ms. Landro writes The Informed Patient column for the Journal.
The Longevity Project
By Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin
(Hudson Street Press, 248 pages, $25.95)
MurrayBacon – I apologise for the attention seeking title.
Part of making responsible decisions is knowing what all the consequences are, that result from the options being considered.