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What 12 studies told us about family life in 2019

From Alzheimer’s research to sleep studies, from helping kids lead healthy lives to keeping marriage strong, we learned a lot.

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Dozens of studies provided insight into family life and what makes relationship flourish or flounder.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sociologists and health researchers are just some of the experts who published dozens of studies in 2019 that impact family life and how we trip up or thrive. Our family beat team looked at lots of them this year, from weight gain to Alzheimer’s screening and how religion impacts a couple’s intimacy. Here are 12 things these studies told us. 

Marriage is not viewed as “crucial” to successful family life by as many U.S. adults as in the past, but most view marriage favorably. And while they think marriage generally is weaker than it has been, 90% of married individuals say theirs is as strong or stronger than it has been in the past.

Those are among marriage-related findings of the 2019 American Family Survey, a nationally representative annual poll conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

The survey found almost half of adults are married, down slightly from the first survey five years ago. Republicans are more likely to be married (63%) than Democrats (39%) and independents (40%). Those with annual household incomes above $40,000 are twice as likely to be married as those making less, at 59% vs. 29%.

The vast majority of teens ages 13 to 17 call depression and anxiety a big challenge for their peers, saying mental health issues have more impact than bullying, substance abuse and alcohol consumption, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Mental health issues are about equal for boys and girls and across income levels, Pew’s Juliana Mensce Horowitz told the Deseret News.

Anxiety and depression often travel together and as many as 30% of children and teens are anxious, but do not get professional help, said New York-based Child Mind Institute. Anxiety among youths was the focus of an award-winning yearlong series by the Deseret News in 2018. The series found girls are more likely to be recognizably stressed than boys, who may shut down or act out when anxious. On college campuses, anxiety sends more students in search of mental health care than depression does. 

Children whose parents are nurturing and affectionate are more likely to do well in midlife, according to research from the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. 

The researchers used an online survey to gather information about the warmth in participants’ parent-child relationships. Warmth included not only affection, but being nurturing, teaching the child about life and communicating.

The adults who reported growing up with parental warmth found more well-being across social, psychological and emotional dimensions. The findings were published in Social Science and Medicine.


Older people can face many challenges, but early screening makes a difference for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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A virtual reality headset could be key to spotting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom that demonstrated early detection by measuring how well a person navigates a virtual world. The brain’s entorhinal cortex, central to navigation, is damaged by the disease early. According to the study, published in the neurology journal Brain, getting lost is among the first symptoms. Significant memory loss typically occurs much later.

”We know that Alzheimer’s affects the brain long before symptoms become apparent,” study author Dennis Chan told Science Daily. “We’re getting to the point where everyday tech can be used to spot the warning signs of the disease well before we become aware of them.”

Two simple questions may predict if a middle school student is likely to abuse alcohol in the future, according to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Asking if the student imbibes or if friends do are screening questions developed by the institute to predict future alcohol abuse. The findings, published in Pediatrics, show a youth’s early drinking or having friends who drink both correlates with future drinking, while having friends who don’t drink increases the odds one won’t. The researchers believe health care providers should ask those questions to help reduce rates of underage drinking. Asking may also get the youths to think about their behavior, experts say.

Sleeping with the lights or TV on may mix up your metabolism and lead to extra weight gain, according to research for the National Institutes of Health. 

“Evolutionarily, we are supposed to be sleeping at night in a dark place,” lead author Dale Sandler of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, told The Associated Press. “It’s much more important than people realize for a whole variety of health reasons.”

Exposure to darkness or light helps regulate the 24-hour body clock and affects hormones that help people sleep and other body-regulating functions, as well as blood pressure.

Women who out-earn their husbands tend to be less happy than their husbands and than women who earn less than spouses. “Breadwinner wives” make up about one-fourth or 15 million of heterosexual married couples.

That “happiness penalty” seems to derive from breadwinner wives’ “second shift” at home and whether they do more overall work, including housework and child care, than their husbands. 

That’s according to a report by Wendy Wang, director of research at the Institute for Family Studies, collaborating with Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institution on a survey of married American couples 18 to 50.

Still, 56% of women who out-earn their husbands are very satisfied with family life — but 70% whose husbands earn more are very satisfied. No difference was found in life satisfaction among the men. The survey found 41% of women who earn more than their spouse also take the lead in housework, compared to 14% of breadwinner men. 

Women who earn more also report greater stress in marriage. Those couples are more apt to divorce, Olga Stoddard, assistant professor of economics at BYU, said of the study. Part of that could be due to entrenched traditional gender norms, she said. And women may put pressure on themselves to do everything at home, as well as work.


Nearly half of our health results come from having people who support and love us, good jobs and a resources.

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Nearly half of our personal health outcomes depend on a combination of personal support networks, where we live and work, and how much money we make. Add in behavioral factors like whether we exercise and eat well or whether we smoke and the impact on health jumps as high as 80%.

Those are among the mental health facts Deseret News reporters picked up at a Mental Health America conference in Washington, D.C., in June in a discussion by Timothy Livengood of Mental Health America of Eastern Carolina and Thomas J. Hart of Anthem, whose public policy institute published “Bridging Gaps to Build Healthy Communities.”

Some experts expand that list of “social determinants of health” to include a sense of being respected and education attainment, among others.`

Religious couples report greater sexual satisfaction than couples who say they are not religious, according to a study by BYU and Baylor University that said the more couples engage in faith-related activities at home, the happier they are with their sex lives. 

The study, published in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, derived from a nationally representative poll of married adults 18 to 45 and focused on whether they consider their marriage sacred. 

The findings contradict what study lead author Jeffrey P. Dew, associate professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, calls a “common social narrative” that marriage harms the sexual aspect of a relationship. “Religion helps encourage people to improve their relationships overall,” Dew told the Deseret News. “And a better relationship leads to higher reports of sexual satisfaction.”

Research that says having kids reduces adult happiness — a finding for two decades — may be wrong. A recent study from Italy’s Bocconi University in Milan says parents are happier than nonparents as long as they feel they can balance the pressures of work with family life and they have adequate financial and other resources. They note that parents get greater happiness from grade school-age children than from older minors. 

In the article, Dartmouth College’s David G. Blanchflower and Paris School of Economics’ Andrew Clark say their own separate research on the topic suggests money is the issue, not the children themselves. “Children are expensive, and controlling for financial difficulties” turns negative feelings positive, they wrote.

Dustin and Caren Moore were finally able to adopt a baby girl after a long and trying nine year journey to become parents.

America’s fertility rate has decreased even in states that traditionally have large families like Utah.

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The share of American children born to parents who are not married has dropped slightly, but hovers around 40%. Utah (19%), Colorado (23%) and Idaho (27%) have the fewest nonmarital births, while the highest rates are in Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, where just over half of babies are born to unmarried parents, per the National Center for Health Statistics.

Researchers say the 2% drop in nonmarital births includes a long-running decrease in the number of children born to unwed teens, but an increase in births to parents who cohabit.

Research suggests children of married parents do better on many measures than children raised in single-parent homes. W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, said marriage fosters higher income and better parenting.

A report by the Institute for Family Studies finds cohabitation is less stable for family life not just in America but internationally, based on the Global Family and Gender Survey, with responses from 16,474 adults in 11 countries who live with minor children. 

Meanwhile, demographic Intelligence predicts the fertility rate in America might be stabilizing after years of decline, which could calm some future economic fears.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s possible to “Marie Kondo” your child’s brain, helping them become organized thinkers. The association has published a book by Dr. Damon Korb, a developmental pediatrician who directs the Center for Developing Minds, that outlines how to do that. 

Kondo wrote a bestselling book about organizing and her name has become synonymous with being organized.

Korb’s steps? Be consistent, introduce order, give everything a place, practice forward-thinking and promote problem-solving. His goal is helping parents raise kids who understand life events occur in sequence, the different moments important, which leads to organized thinking that is great preparation for adulthood.