Lois M. Collins Deseret News
Researchers poke and prod at families to find out what makes them founder and how they might thrive.
Here, in random order, are 10 things studies showed us about family life in 2017.
1. Attitudes on infidelity are shifting. Americans overwhelmingly say adultery is never good, and most people say they don’t engage in it — the number hovers around 16 percent of married people — but a counterintuitive generation gap in infidelity has emerged since the turn of the century. According to Nicholas Wolfinger, a University of Utah sociologist, younger Americans are cheating less, and older Americans are cheating more. His findings were published by the Institute for Family Studies.
And while we’re on the subject of cheating, new research from the University of Denver published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that infidelity in one relationship increases the risk of infidelity in a future relationship threefold.
A Deseret News survey found that Americans are murky on what counts as infidelity with the advent of social media. Three-quarters say a one-night stand is cheating, but what about connecting with an ex online or suggestive texting? The “Ten Today” report explored shifting attitudes, how they intersect with politics and more.
2. Drinking alcohol while pregnant may affect future generations. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says imbibing any amount of alcohol while pregnant could hurt a developing baby, the impact could be longer-lasting than previously believed. New research from the University of California Riverside, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, finds the risk of harm could cross generations, impacting not just the developing baby, but that baby’s future children and grandchildren. The scientists said alcohol may create epigenetic changes that hold across those generations.
3. Teen development is slowing. Parents who think they were driving, dating, drinking and having sex at an earlier age than their kids might just be right. A psychology professor at San Diego State University, Jean M. Twenge, has studied teen development and concludes that modern 18-year-olds look like 15-year-olds did in the past in terms of development. According to the Deseret News recap, across cultural groups, “adolescents in 2010 were less likely to have a paying job, drive, date, drink, go out without their parents or have sex, compared to teens of previous decades,” the story said. The study was published in the journal Child Development.
4. Perceptions about money can impact marital conflict. When husbands see their wives as too “spendy,” the relationship is headed for conflict, according to research from Brigham Young University and Kansas State University. That perception is the biggest predictor, in fact — and truth may have little to do with the discord that ensues. The study “Tightwads and Spenders: Predicting Financial Conflict in Couple Relationships,” was published in the Journal of Financial Planning.
5. Girls’ self-perception matters to their achievement. In fact, a study published in the journal Science suggests girls as young as 6 may believe boys are more naturally “brilliant” than girls and stereotype themselves out of career options and education. It said views that “associate high-level intellectual ability” with males more than females “discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers.” The little girls saw themselves as capable of “hard-work” jobs, but not those that required keen minds.
“We found this stereotyping at a very young age and we also found this association has immediate impact on activities boys and girls are interested in,” the lead researcher, University of Illinois at Champaign’s Lin Bian, told the Deseret News. The study was a collaboration with researchers at New York University and Princeton University.
6. Marriage is more stable for children than cohabitation. An analysis of marriage versus cohabiting in more than 60 countries suggests young children are more likely to thrive when parents marry. The 2017 World Family Map was published by the Institute for Family Studies and the Social Trends Institute and considered the impact on a child’s first 12 years.
According to the Deseret News article on the research by social scientists at University of Virginia and Georgetown University, “American and European children whose parents were living together but not married at the time of their birth are by age 12 vastly more likely to see the parents split. And the report says marriage is more powerfully associated with stability for kids than is a parent’s level of education.”
7. Older Americans who face hunger don’t always get help. Many older Americans face the danger of hunger and malnourishment, and they receive less help than other potentially hungry age groups, according to a report that found while there’s a slight drop in overall risk of hunger among seniors, the number at severe risk has not budged. The number of seniors at “threat of hunger” fell 1 percent from 2014 to 2015, but it still included nearly 10 million seniors 60 and older, said the report by researchers from University of Kentucky and University of Illinois, written for Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.
The primary program designed to make sure needy people have adequate food isn’t reaching all the elderly who need it. Overall, 80 percent of low-income households that qualify receive assistance getting adequate nutrition through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But just 4 in 10 eligible senior citizens participate in the program.
8. Social media can lower enjoyment of family time. Parents who document family experiences for social media sometimes neglect to enjoy them, according to researchers at VitalSmarts who surveyed 1,623 adults to see how their social media behaviors impacted their perception of happiness. Pleasure in experiences was diminished by those “focused on capturing rather than experiencing,” noted one of the researchers, Joseph Grenny, who said, “’Likes’ are a low-effort way of producing a feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to get in the real world.”
Cellphone use is also related to family relationships in a different way: The Deseret News/BYU 2017 American Family Survey this year noted that people who spend more time on their phones are more likely to report marriage or relationship trouble compared with others. The survey looked at several aspects of how technology and family life intersect.
9. Parental depression shows up in children’s behavior. Depressed moms may withdraw from their children or express indifference and hostility. Dads who feel depressed more often lash out: They tend to punch a wall or shout. That’s one finding of a study by BYU researchers that says parents who are depressed need to get professional help — for their own sake and their kids’. Kevin Shafer, associate professor of social work and lead author of the study, published in the academic journal Social Work Research, said the impact shows up in how the children feel and act.
“We see internalized problem behaviors, things like kids having low self-esteem, being anxious, feeling depressed, withdrawing from others, those sorts of issues,” he told the Deseret News. Or they may behave badly, including lying, bullying, cheating and stealing.
10. Kids remember superheroes’ violence more than the good they do. Another BYU study suggests that children often miss the message in superhero films of helping others and doing good, instead seeing the aggressiveness of superheroes.
According to an article on the research, “When they see the on-screen battle between good and evil, 4-year-olds remember the punching, not why it happened, says the study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. A year later, those children are more behaviorally and relationally aggressive.”