Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Ideal Family Structure, According To Science

Fr. John Pasquini, Th.D.

A Summary of Allan C. Carlson’s Study on the Family

The path to good health, according to the biological and sociological sciences, is clear.  Good health and wellbeing is determined by the structure of the family.  The ideal family structure is not always possible, but it is a true gift when it manifests itself.

What type of family enhances one’s psychological and physical health and wellbeing?  Studies show that wellbeing is enhanced

-----where one’s natural parents are married and remain so. 
-----where couples marry at a young age.
-----where married couples are sexually faithful to each other, and remain faithful and together throughout life.
-----where children live in a family with many siblings from the same parents—and a stay-at-home mother, if at all possible.
-----where families attend religious services faithfully.

Human wellbeing is diminished by single parenthood, working (outside the home) mothers, childlessness, divorce, a “one child” family, unmarried cohabitation, step or blended families, non-marital sexuality, and a spirit of secularism. 

The health and wellbeing crisis we face today is based on this shift from the traditional family to the modern secular family.  What are the consequences of this shift?
1) Studies from Wake Forest University, Temple University, the Universities of Minnesota, Houston, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Louisiana State, studies by epidemiologists in Scotland, Cyprus, Estonia, Sweden, Italy, Hungary, Germany and Spain of 12,720 children,  and the study of 17,565 children by Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles have found the following regarding this shift from traditional to non-traditional families: The stress and lifestyle of non-traditional marriages and families predisposes people to childhood obesity and adulthood diabetes, to heart disease, anxiety disorders, and depression. The instability of non-traditional families are stressors on the human body, psychologically and physically.  

What impact does divorce have?
1) Studies from France, Canada, Italy, Austria, Turkey and the United States have found children growing up with divorced parents were susceptible to higher rates of psychological disorders (such as self-mutilation), and higher rates of hospitalization (i.e., migraine headaches). 

What about living alone and childless?
1) Studies in Finland have found that living alone leads to a life of dissatisfaction, a lower life-span, and higher rates of suicide, disabilities, and coronary heart diseases.
2) Studies at Deakin University in Australia have found that not having children predisposed women to lower levels of general health--mental, social and physical.  
3) Unmarried women, according to studies from the universities of Oxford, Columbia, and Michigan, have children that are predisposed to “serious neo-natal morbidity, severe childhood disability, and perinatal and neonatal mortality.”  British researcher found children from a single parent household were more prone to accidental injuries, such as burns and fractured bones.
4) Single persons—unmarried, divorced, separated--according to a Canadian study, were more apt to smoke and a Finnish study has found that single persons are more apt to suffer from alcoholism, alcohol related deaths and drug use.  Studies from the University of Maryland and John Hopkins University have found similar results.

What about religion and the family?
1) The University of Michigan’s study of 17,000 high school seniors found that Church attendance was correlated with lower levels of smoking, binge drinking, and marijuana use.  Likewise the 2002-2005 National Survey of Youth and Religion found that religious persons were less likely to engage in premarital and promiscuous sexual intercourse.  They were less likely to develop a sexually transmitted disease. 
2) Married religious women have more children than non-religious women.  Religious women have on average more than two children, whereas non-religious women are likely to have, on average, one child or no child.
3) Non-religious families produce non-religious adults, and non-religious adults have higher rates psychological disorders.

Do traditional family structures produce happier lives?  What impact does the traditional family have on living longer and living well?
1) In an exhaustive study by the Norwegian Kyersti Norgard Bernsten, Kyersti found--confirming studies by British and American sociologists--that marriage was associated with longer life-spans.  It is believed that the “protective effects of marriage,” those aspects that foster moderation in all dimensions of life, from economic stewardship to good health habits, are responsible for wellbeing and longer life-spans.

What can we conclude?
Allan C. Carlson summarizes the results of his research in a poignant manner:

“God’s intent for the creatures formed in his image screams out here:  when still young, be chaste; avoid behaviors, foods, and substances throughout your life that would damage your mind and body; on reaching adulthood, marry and remain faithful; become one flesh with your spouse, sexually and economically; bear and raise a good number of children; and guide your family in worship and service to God.  Your reward will not only be in heaven; you will also enjoy good health here on earth.  This is science talking, not some gray-haired theologian.”

*For the extensive footnotes associated with this article, see Allan C. Carson, Communio, Fall 2014, 564f.