March 23, 2011 ( – While many studies have shown the positive effects of stable natural marriage on the physical and mental health of husbands and wives, an eight-decade-long research effort initiated in 1921 by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman has found significant negative effects on the children of failed marriages.

The study found that such children died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families.

In 1990, psychologists Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin began a follow-up of the work begun by Lewis Terman, whose main interest lay in a study of 10-year-olds in San Francisco, with the goal of forming a test to identify the potential of high intellectual achievement. One of the results of Terman’s work was the Stanford-Binet IQ test.

Friedman and Martin found that Terman’s original interviews with the children were so detailed and comprehensive that an analysis of follow-up interviews, and a study of the causes of death in the death certificates of participants, could shed some light on the significant factors that affect longevity.

The results of Mr. Friedman and Ms. Martin’s research are published in a book titled “The Longevity Project” and provide some sobering insights.

“Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood,” the authors said.

“The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.”

The authors noted that the early death of a parent did not have the same effect on children’s life spans or mortality risk as that of parental divorce and family break-up.

A surprising finding was that children that were described in Terman’s original interviews as “cheerful” also turned out to have shorter life spans than their more reserved peers.

The authors found that these “cheerful” children died in later life more often from homicide, suicide or accident, possibly as a result of a greater predisposition to engage in risky behavior.

Friedman and Martin concluded that the best childhood predictor of longevity is a quality they define as “conscientiousness.” This is found in children who are formed in an environment infused with “the often complex pattern of persistence, prudence, hard work, close involvement with friends and communities” that is found in a stable and committed marriage.

Roger Eldridge, chairman of the National Men’s Council of Ireland, remarked on the findings of The Longevity Project in light of the comments made last year by Mr. Justice Walls, head of the Family Division Court in England, where he said, “Separation is, of itself, a serious failure of parenting.”

“The Longevity Project puts facts to that overdue revelation,” Eldridge said.

“The courts are at last recognizing the truth that separation/divorce is an act of selfishness on behalf of parents (actually the deserter) and is an act of child abuse. Reducing a child’s life span by an average of 5 years is a measurable consequence of such selfishness, but the poisonous and devastating effect that it has on a child’s daily existence and their life potential and outcomes can never be measured.”

“The Longevity Project” by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin is published by Hudson Street Press