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Research Findings: Marital status, family structure and health

Being married has been shown to be good for people’s health.  Other aspects of family life are also important for health.  The effect of family life on the life-chances, lifestyles and well-being of children and young people is an issue receiving considerable attention by public health researchers and policy makers.  We wanted to find out whether being brought up in non-intact families, level of conflict within the home, time spent with family, and geographic area where people live, had an effect on life-chances such as education and employment, and health risk behaviours, particularly among teenagers. 

We also looked at whether having a family history of heart disease influenced health behaviour, and the effects of being a family carer on carers’ own health. 

Research on the theme of family background in the Twenty-07 Study has explored three areas: 

Role of marital status on health

Why being ‘single’ could be bad for your health
We found that the observed better health in married people most likely results from better living standards, less stress, and perceived ‘quality’ of social support rather than less smoking and drinking, and high levels of ‘available’ and ‘actual’ social support.  However, other health behaviours such as diet and sleep patterns are worth considering. 

Summary papers...

Role of family life on health and health behaviours

Effect of family structure, culture and conflict on teenage health
During teenage years and into adulthood, family culture may have more direct effects on health than poorer living standards or family structure.

The relationship between family life and young people’s lifestyles
Among the youngest cohort of the Twenty-07 Study the most consistent relationships occurred in respect of ‘family time’.  Young people who spent more time with the rest of their family were less likely to smoke or to have tried illicit drugs.  They were more likely to have left school later, to have some qualifications, and to be students, with women less likely to have been pregnant by age 18.

Effect of family structure on teenage family life, behaviour and life-chances
We found that young people from ‘step’ and lone parent households spent less time with their families than those from families with both birth parents. Less time spent with family was strongly and most consistently linked to higher levels of smoking, drinking, and experience of drugs, heterosexual intercourse, teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour, poorer educational achievement and reduced employment after leaving school.

Certain aspects of family life, particularly poorer relationships and conflict with parent(s) were associated with lower self-esteem, poorer mental health and well-being and, among females, more symptoms of physical ill-health at ages 15 and 18.  Teenagers from more family-centred and lower-conflict homes had a greater likelihood of reaching further education. 

Influence of family and friends on teenage smoking habits
The period from mid-adolescence to early adulthood is important for uptake of regular smoking, and in particular friends’ smoking appeared to have a significant influence on respondent behaviour, especially around school-leaving age when friendship networks often change dramatically.  Having parents who smoke did not appear to influence teenage smoking habits.

Does the effect of family structure on teenage opportunities, lifestyle and health vary geographically?
The effects of family life and reason for family disruption on the future lifestyles, health and life chances of teenagers were not found to vary according to which part of the country they live in.

Summary papers...

The effects of caring on health

Effects of being a family carer on carer's own health
Previous research suggests family carers are faced with considerable sacrifices ranging from loss of career prospects and income to ill-effects on their own health.  However, we found no evidence to suggest that caring is bad for health even in those in ‘higher risk’ caring roles.  In fact, we found the opposite to be true, that carers report slightly better health and well-being than non-carers. 

Summary papers...