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5 things we learned about families in 2023

Surveys and studies illuminated health, well-being and family life

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Eliza Anderson, Deseret News

Sociologists, pollsters, medical researchers and other experts work year-round studying what leads to a better life, across a bunch of different measures. They also pinpoint factors that can detract or that challenge people for various reasons. As studies and surveys peel back the curtain on aspects of health and well-being, many of the insights can be acted upon.

Here are five things we learned about family life from research and polls in 2023.

The sleep ‘sweet spot’ for longer life

A Harvard-led team of researchers drove home the value of adequate, high-quality sleep, noting that “young people who have more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die early.” They presented findings from their sleep research at the American College of Cardiology’s 2023 Annual Scientific Session.

They said that about 1 in 12 deaths — from any cause — could be linked to poor sleep.

A ton of research says the body benefits from sleep, a time when it clears toxins, boosts immunity and improves brain and hormone function. Getting enough sleep is vital, though getting too much sleep is not good. 

The researchers said that five sleep habits add close to five years to a man’s life expectancy and two-and-a-half years to a woman’s. Those five sleep factors are:

  • Sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
  • Struggling to fall asleep no more than two times a week.
  • Having trouble staying asleep two times a week or less.
  • Not using sleep medication.
  • Feeling well-rested when you wake up at least five days a week.

You can read more about this sleep research here.

Americans say career choices are key to their happiness

Americans — including religious folks — increasingly believe choosing the right career path is more vital to happiness and a good life than choosing the right spouse. That’s according to findings in a Pew Research Center report published in September.

“In every religious group analyzed, two-thirds or more say having a job or career they enjoy is extremely or very important for people to live a fulfilling life,” Pew reported. “By comparison, having children and being married ranks lower among all religious groups.”

As Kelsey Dallas reported for the Deseret News, “To be clear, people of faith generally aren’t negative about marriage, although they view it as less of a fulfillment-driver than other things.”

Read more about faith and family formation here.

Americans worry about the future of the family

The same Pew report found that close to 4 in 10 Americans are pessimistic about the future of the family. A quarter — 25% — say they feel optimistic, while 29% say they are neither.

When the survey asked respondents whether specific trends are positive or negative for the future, the one seen as most negative is “fewer children raised by two married parents.” Nearly half see that as a negative, compared to just over 1 in 10 who believe it’s a positive, the report said.

More consider fewer people ever getting married a negative (36%) than see it as a positive (9%). Twice as many (29%) see cohabiting as negative than see it as positive (15%).

But when it comes to having fewer children, the numbers are very similar: 27% call that negative and 25% call that positive.

Find five more findings from that survey here.

Marriage is still an aspiration, but not seen as crucial to thrive

Marriage is popular and most Americans who have never wed hope to do so one day. But the marriage rate is declining and more children are being born to unwed parents.

That’s according to the newest American Family Survey, conducted by YouGov for Deseret News and BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and the university’s Wheatley Institute. The nationally representative survey finds views on marriage split three ways: A Republican, churchgoing group that’s largely enthusiastic about marriage; a Democratic group that is becoming more skeptical and is not particularly churchgoing; and “an odd collection of change in the middle.”

The survey reports that:

  • Marriage is weakening as a support for children.
  • Democrats are losing faith in marriage.
  • Republicans and the “privileged” are investing less in programs to support marriage.

You can read more about family formation attitudes here.

Volunteering can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s

Volunteering is good for memory and executive function, so researchers at the University of California, Davis found voluntarism could be a hedge against developing Alzheimer’s disease. Their study, presented at the annual Alzheimer’s Association international research conference, said volunteering was associated with better baseline scores for executive function and verbal episodic memory, even after they adjusted for a number of factors including age, education, sex and income. And volunteering more often is even better.

“Volunteering may be important for better cognition in late life and could serve as a simple intervention in all older adults to protect against risk for Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias,” Yi Lor, an epidemiology doctoral student at UC Davis, said in the study release. “Our next steps are to examine whether volunteering is protective against cognitive impairment and how physical and mental health may impact this relationship.”

People-oriented and service-oriented volunteering are best, the researchers said. You can read more research findings from the gathering here.