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."That's the upside of their findings. The downside has much to do with divorce.
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.Parental divorce is traumatic to children and, generally speaking, the younger the child when the divorce occurs, the more traumatic. The rhetoric promoting no-fault divorce, when states began passing those statutes in the 1960s, was, in typical 60s fashion, all about freedom. Parents shouldn't be "trapped" in an unhappy marriage, so the story went, and children would actually be better off when parents were free of the burden. It's an optimistic theory; too bad it's not true. Time and again, in physical health, emotional health, educational performance, involvement in crime and substance abuse, and a host of others, divorce harms kids. I'm not a fan of fault-based divorce, but somehow, parents need to get the message that their children will likely be better off if they stay together. Maybe the concept should be taught in school. Maybe married people with kids should be held to a higher legal standard than those without, before they can be granted a divorce. If married adults don't have kids, they can divorce any time they like and it won't bother me in the least. But those with kids need to change their ways and they need to do it for the children. Life is long and there'll be plenty of time to divorce once the kids are out of the nest. But as long as they're in it, parents need to stay together if at all possible. Thanks to Ronald for the heads-up.