The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?


Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King


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.

To conduct their research, the authors of the study 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.”

“Furthermore,” the researchers continue, “these findings are independent of each other and of multiple factors known to influence children’s educational attainment and marriage timing. These intriguing results support theories pointing toward the long-term intergenerational consequences of variations in multiple dimensions of parents’ marriages.” 

“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, and also more likely to view their parents’ high-quality marriage as something worth waiting to achieve. 

Whatever the reason, the implications are clear. Even 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.  

(“Love matters: How parents’ love shapes children’s lives,” Science Daily press release [February 12, 2020], available at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200212150134.htm; also, Sarah R. Brauner-Otto, William G. Axinn, and Dirgha J. Ghimire, “Parents’ Marital Quality and Children’s Transition to Adulthood,” Demography [2020], doi: 10.1007/s13524-019-00851-w.)