Love Is All You Need: Insights from the Longest Longitudinal Study on Men Ever Conducted

Brett and Kate McKay, Art of Manliness, September 2, 2014

Why do two men from very similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds sometimes take very different life paths?

Is nature or nurture more important in determining a man’s success in his relationships and career?

What physiological and psychological traits present in a man’s younger years predict his chances of living a long, flourishing life?

In 1938, researchers at Harvard’s medical school began a study that aimed to answer these fascinating questions and discover what factors lead to an “optimum” life. The study recruited 268 of the university’s sophomores from the all-male classes of 1939-1944, and set out to examine every aspect of their lives for at least a couple decades. The men selected were healthy in body and mind, and deemed likely to capitalize on their potential and become successful adults. While many of them came from well-off families, some were intelligent students who had been plucked from poor households and given full scholarships.

The study’s participants were signing on for extensive probing into their lives. They were given physicals and thorough psychological evaluations; researchers visited their homes to interview their parents, as well as three generations of relatives; each year the men filled out an exhaustive questionnaire that inquired about numerous aspects of their health, habits, family, political views, career, and marriage; and every 10-15 years, the men were interviewed face-to-face.

This research project, known as the Grant Study, continues today, more than 75 years after its inception. Having been extended numerous times, it has become one of the longest longitudinal studies ever conducted. When George Vaillant, who has been the study’s director for several decades, first started working on the project, he was thirty-two, and the participants were in their fifties; today, Vaillant is pushing eighty, and the men are in their nineties. The participants continue to fill out their annual questionnaires, and Vaillant continues to study their answers.

Nothing quite like the Grant Study has ever been attempted; as Vaillant puts it, this research represents “one of the first vantage points the world has ever had on which to stand and look prospectively at a man’s life from eighteen to ninety.” The mountains of data collected over more than seven decades has become a rich trove for examining what factors present in a man’s younger years best predict whether he will be successful and happy into old age. The study’s researchers have continually sifted through the results and reports in an attempt to ferret out these promising elements. As Vaillant details in The Triumphs of Experience, some of the researchers’ original hypotheses did not pan out, and the job of untangling issues of causation and correlation goes on. Yet several insights have emerged very strongly and prominently from the data, offering brightly marked guideposts to a life well lived.

The Importance of Relationships

To discover what factors predicted a man’s ability to become a successful, well-adjusted adult, Vaillant created a list of ten accomplishments, which included career success and professional prominence, mental and physical health, a good marriage, supportive friendships, closeness to one’s children, the ability to enjoy work, love, and play, and a subjective level of happiness. He called this set of accomplishments the “Decathlon of Flourishing”, and measured the level to which each man in the study had achieved these “events” between the ages 65-80. Vaillant then looked back over the men’s personal histories to figure out what factors present earlier in the men’s lives most predicted their Decathlon score.

When Vaillant crunched the numbers, he discovered no significant relationship between a man’s level of flourishing and his IQ, his body type (mesomorph, ectomorph, endomorph), or the income and education level of his parents.

The factors that did loom large, and collectively predicted all ten Decathlon events, had one thing in common: relationships. This rubric included:

  • A warm, supportive childhood
  • A mature “coping style” (being able to roll with the punches, be patient with others, keep a sense of humor in the face of setbacks, delay gratification, etc.)
  • Overall “soundness” as evaluated during college years (resilient, warm personality, social, not overly sensitive)
  • Warm adult relationships between the ages of 37-47 (having close friends, maintaining contact with family, being active in social organizations)

Vaillant found that the men who had the best scores in these areas during their youth and mid-life, were the happiest, most successful, and best adjusted in their latter years. This is the finding of the Grant Study that has emerged most prominently: “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.”

The powerful effect of intimate relationships can be seen in a variety of factors in a man’s life, including their income levels:

  • Men with at least one good relationship with a sibling growing up made $51,000 more per year than men who had poor relationships with their siblings, or no siblings at all
  • Men who grew up in cohesive homes made $66,000 more per year than men from unstable ones
  • Men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those men whose mothers were uncaring
  • The 58 men with the best scores for warm relationships made almost $150,000 more per year than the 31 men with the worst scores

Remember that these men all entered the workforce with a Harvard education. Also remember that their parents’ socioeconomic status turned out not to be a significant factor in their own future income.

In addition to finding that warm relationships in general had a positive impact on the men’s lives, Vaillant uncovered specific effects that stemmed from a man’s childhood, and from the respective influence of his mother and father.

The Impact of a Man’s Childhood

{snip}

In order to gauge the effect of a man’s childhood on his future prospects in life, Vaillant scored the quality of the participants’ upbringing according to these criteria:

  • Was the home atmosphere warm and stable?
  • Was the boy’s relationship with his father warm and encouraging, conducive to autonomy, and supportive of initiative and self-esteem?
  • Was the boy’s relationship with his mother warm and encouraging, conducive to autonomy, and supportive of initiative and self-esteem?
  • Would the rater have wished to grow up in that home environment?
  • Was the boy close to at least one sibling?

When the outcomes of the men’s lives were analyzed, and compared to this set of criteria, it became quite clear that “for good or ill, the effects of childhood last a long time.” A warm childhood proved a much stronger predictor of many aspects of a man’s flourishing later in life, including his overall contentment in his late seventies, than either his parent’s social class or his own income. These effects are particularly striking when the men with the warmest childhoods (who were dubbed “the Cherished”) are compared with those in the bottom tenth (who were called “the Loveless”):

  • The Cherished made 50% more money than the Loveless
  • The Cherished were 5X more likely to enjoy rich friendships and warm social supports at age seventy
  • The Loveless were 3.5X more likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill (which includes serious depression, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and need for extended psychiatric care)
  • The Loveless were 5X more likely to be unusually anxious
  • The Loveless took more prescription drugs of all kinds, and were twice as likely to seek medical attention for minor physical complaints

{snip}

What Goes Right Matters More Than What Goes Wrong

In studying the powerful impact a man’s childhood has on his prospects for health, happiness, and success, an important corollary was discovered: “it is not any one thing for good or ill—social advantage, abusive parents, physical weakness—that determines the way children adapt to life, but the quality of their total experience.” Basically, what the Grant Study found is that even if a lot of bad things happen during your childhood, if they’re outweighed by the good things, you’ll still turn out okay. So if, say, a man had an absent father but a warm relationship with his mother and siblings, or cold parents, but loving grandparents, his prospects for future flourishing were still good. It was not any one factor, or constellation of factors, Vaillant reports, but the quality of one’s childhood as a whole that mattered most.

This point is driven home by the findings of a study that was done in tandem with the Grant Study. Since the participants in the Grant Study were not a terribly diverse group, in 1940 researchers began to run the Gluek Study alongside it, which included a second cohort of 456 disadvantaged non-delinquent inner-city youths from the Boston area. When the childhoods of the men in this study were examined, it was found that even if the family was poor, the father was on welfare, and the family had numerous other problems, sons who were loved by their mothers, admired their dads, and had good friendships went on to become successful and attain a higher socioeconomic status. This explains why men who grew up in impoverished households, but who go on to flourish anyway, often say things like, “Even though we were poor, we never realized it when we were children, because our parents made our home such a wonderful place.”

{snip}

The Influence of a Mother

Not only did a man’s overall childhood experience greatly impact the rest of his life, but his mother and father each influenced it in a particular way. The Grant Study found that a warm relationship with his mother was significantly associated with a man’s:

  • effectiveness at work
  • maximum late-life income
  • military rank at the end of WWII
  • inclusion in Who’s Who
  • IQ in college
  • Verbal test scores
  • Class rank in college
  • Mental competence at age 80

On the flip side of that last point is the fact that “a poor relationship with his mother was very significantly, and very surprisingly, associated with dementia.” Men who lacked a warm relationship with their mothers were 3X more likely to get dementia in their old age.

{snip}

The Influence of a Father

The Grant Study also found influences that were associated exclusively with dads. Loving fathers imparted to their sons:

  • enhanced capacity to play
  • more enjoyment of vacations
  • greater likelihood of being able to use humor as a healthy coping mechanism
  • better adjustment to, and contentment with, life after retirement
  • less anxiety and fewer physical and mental symptoms under stress in young adulthood

In the negative column, it “was not the men with poor mothering but the ones with poor fathering who were significantly more likely to have poor marriages over their lifetimes.” Men who lacked a positive relationship with their fathers were also “much more likely to call themselves pessimists and to report having trouble letting others get close.”

If there was ever any doubt, fathers matter, a lot: When all is said and done, a man’s relationship with his father very significantly predicted his overall life satisfaction at age 75–“a variable not even suggestively associated with the maternal relationship.”

{snip}

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  • I got thoroughly screwed on most of those counts except for my mother and friends.

    • me

      But you’ve pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps, conquered the odds against you, and made a success of life without having the support you needed. All on your own, without making excuses, expecting help, or becoming a monster. Typical White male behavior, and heroic.

  • dd121

    So what? If blacks don’t have many of the positives, don’t blame whites.

  • MekongDelta69

    Bottom line:

    Whites > blacks

  • My initial reaction was that this study was flawed by the selection bias entry barrier of admission to Harvard in the 1930s. Then I read about the Gleuck Study. However, even that might be flawed, as “delinquent inner city youths” in Boston in 1940 probably mean poor-working class ethnic whites, not the black undertow or Africanus Bellcurvius.

  • IKUredux

    White people have always historically supported the nuclear family. We have accepted the mother/father paradigm as the correct form for raising children. This study has done nothing but prove that the Western way of raising a family, is superior. Although…if Whites were forced into an African village, what would they have done? Allow the village to raise their child? Would their Whiteness have prevailed? Is being a two parent family in our White DNA? Is it in chinese DNA?

    • Spikeygrrl

      Whites spent millennia in multi-generational family groups within mutually supportive “kin and clan” societies. This is the structure for which our evolution so clearly suits us. The “nuclear family” is, in historical terms, a Johnny-come-lately — and it’s NOT doing us any favors.

  • TL2014

    Interesting. Is there an equivalent study for women?

  • Tarczan

    “The Grant Study also found influences that were associated exclusively with dads. Loving fathers imparted to their sons:
    enhanced capacity to play
    more enjoyment of vacations
    greater likelihood of being able to use humor as a healthy coping mechanism
    better adjustment to, and contentment with, life after retirement”
    What a bunch of nonsense. “Better adjustment after retirement”
    Don’t these people have something more important to study than this BS?

    One study is meaningless, but it does give darkies who aren’t making it excuses (poor family) so I guess all is good.

  • MoMo

    If this is true then it is hard to explain Hugh Hefner? While successful “white” men may have euphoric recall over bed hopping when they were younger they soon realize that they won’t have either the time or energy to chase young women for recreational sex and still be successful. So they sacrifice exciting sex for marital sex, go to church, work hard, take care of their families, acquire a couple of million dollars worth of “things” to leave their ungrateful progeny, write their wills, then die alone.

    African – Americans don’t follow this prescription. These low income males tend to have numerous “girlfriends” with numerous “children” which you and I pay taxes.

    MoMo

    • me

      I wouldn’t use that Merchant Hugh Hefner as a role model. He’s quite repulsive. The Negroes have things like Michael King, Jesse, and Al as their ‘role models’ today, along with things like pdiddy, Snoop Dog, and whatever…..all disgusting, and all the lowest common type of human.
      White males do not ‘die alone’ if they are good husbands and fathers. If you’re a Wall Street sycophant, a corporate sycophant, a political whore, an entertainment ‘star’, or any other type of self-absorbed mammon-worshiper, you may die alone–without striking a balance between your love of success/money and your family.

      • MoMo

        The use of the word “Merchant” in this context is almost Shakespearean. I would never suggest using Mr. Hefner as a role model for anyone’s lifestyle. I am quite sure that had he to live his life over he would have chosen a more traditional, monogamous, lifestyle rather than indulging in countless meretricious relationships with young beautiful women. That does sound “disgusting!”

        • me

          Ha Ha. You’re funny.

          • MoMo

            I just think you are just treating my sarcasm with sarcasm – which is by the way a part of the “Playboy Philosophy. – Ha Ha.

  • Emblematic

    To assume a single psychological model for all races is a mistake.
    All this hand-wringing about absent black fathers misunderstands the differences between black nature and white nature.
    What evolution has designed as an optimal life strategy for one race will not work for another race.
    Whites need to be raised in stable loving families.
    Blacks, on the other hand, have their own way of living – if you want to see what it is, look at Africa.

  • Paleoconn

    The flaw of studies like this is in failing to realize that some of the environmental elements they observe are linked to genetics, ie. parents that provide warmth and support will have kids that do likewise and those kids are likely to succeed or have fulfilling family lives of their own with their wives and kids.

    Culture derives from genes.

    Still, I am surprised by such big differences in some success indicators in such a range-restricted cohort, ie. among Harvard grads, versus Harvard grads compared to the population at large.

  • GeneticsareDestiny

    I doubt the relationship factors caused the positive or negative life outcomes. Rather, men who inherited genes that predisposed them towards having positive relationships in their lives were probably disproportionately likely to also inherit genes that gave them the talent necessary to earn more money.

    We’ve known for a long time that wealth tends to run in “good families,” not in fatherless ones run by baby mammas. There’s probably a genetic reason for that.

    • adplatt126

      It certainly likely contributes.

  • adplatt126

    No they won’t. This presumes and perpetuates the myth of the economistic man/woman. It’s not even true for most white people, that they are in fact rational in this way. Black women by and large will still continue to behave much as they always have. Their children may starve, but they’ll continue and in all likelihood resort to crime, imposing the externalities on the rest of us. All hell will break loose socially, and they’ll continue in the same vein. They will not impose moral or sensible decisions upon themselves. They will always and everywhere have sense and right and all else conceivably good or truly progressive imposed upon them by nature.

    • LHathaway

      “They will always and everywhere have sense and right and all else conceivably good or truly progressive imposed upon them by nature”
      .
      That’s what the previous poster, Anonymous, was saying? Perhaps in a much less crude or evil way, he was actually saying the same thing, or something similar?

      • adplatt126

        Not really. He was indicating that black women would respond to external incentives readily and rationally. I was arguing this to be unlikely, that only nature, and nature alone would weed out the parasites in their community, not reason.

        • LHathaway

          Well, in the sense I took your last sentence to be the same idea as his, I think the argument is that if ‘welfare is removed’, ‘nature’ would fix the problem, not fix the problem in a Darwinist sense, but in that these women would have many less children out of wed-lock, etc, etc.

          • adplatt126

            He made two points. The first I objected to. They are not equivalent points. One involves agency based action, and the other involves evolutionary action.

  • Ultimate187

    Anyone could have arrived at that conclusion without doing a formal study.

  • willbest

    Wow you really can blame whites…

    This study started in 1938, by the 1960s the elite would have enough information to determine what causes success and how to ruin it for their competition (aka everybody else). The blacks at the time were being socially shamed into “acting white”. Between civil rights and their own innate lower time preference the result was them being the canary in the coal mine. The expansion of the welfare state and feminism has similarly wiped out the lower class whites. The middle class will get demolished in the impending debt tsunami leaving the Oligarchy in place.

    Gotta hand it to them, most people think in terms of months, these guys were working on centuries.

  • LHathaway

    “When all is said and done, a man’s relationship with his father very significantly predicted his overall life satisfaction at age 75–“a variable not even suggestively associated with the maternal relationship”.

    This just confused me. The first 90% of the article is about how mothering is most important, and then the closing is about father’s being most important. Or is this last statement taken out of context – a good father ‘makes you happy’ but it doesn’t do much to raise your income?

  • taken ~ 2 weeks ago. Me & the little one.

  • Jack Burton

    So all of that time, money and effort just to learn the obvious, that having a pro-social and supportive family life is better than a dysfunctional one.

  • Usually Much Calmer

    I encourage everyone here to read the original piece at art of manliness.
    I really wish the men on this site would stop bashing women in general. It is not for female solidarity that I say this. The women on this site are resilient or they wouldn’t be here.

    Emotional intimacy is a psychological necessity. Bitterness hurts the person who harbors it.

    • me

      White women have a double-edged sword in society today. They’re given mixed messages by White men, given mixed messages by the ‘media’, and given no credit for raising good, healthy White children in a hostile society. White men certainly don’t protect White women and children anymore, acting like a bunch of cowards–look at what’s happening in England and the pedophile scandals. White men do not protect White’s rights in the courts, in politics, in their neighborhoods, or in their schools.White men under forty have started behaving like Negroes, cowardly and self-absorbed, abandoning the morals and ethics of their forefathers. White men are running away from any type of responsibility towards themselves or society. I see White men dressing like four-year-olds, in shorts and baseball caps. They play video games and watch porn in their free time. They ‘hang out’ with other arrested development friends. They refuse to grow up. They won’t start a family, a business, or a community project. They wonder why White women have lost respect for them. White men have a problem with expecting White women to be a certain way, then giving White men carte blanche for bad behavior, including the ‘dating outside your race’ absolution. White men need to step up to the challenges that they’ve let happen; stop supporting the ‘multicultural’ nightmare, and start protecting their people, their values, their morals, their society, and their countries.

      • IstvanIN

        You can not blame men for all these woes any more than you can blame women. The whole idea that men and women are “the same”, clearly crazy, has disrupted the “typical” or “normal” relationship between the sexes that most people naturally and easily fit into. It is a societal thing. One thing I can say for sure is that White men and women need to be on the same side.

        • me

          Yes. That’s what I’M saying.

      • Epoche

        White men under forty have started behaving like Negroes, cowardly and
        self-absorbed, abandoning the morals and ethics of their forefathers.
        White men are running away from any type of responsibility towards
        themselves or society. I see White men dressing like four-year-olds, in
        shorts and baseball caps. They play video games and watch porn in their
        free time. They ‘hang out’ with other arrested development friends. They
        refuse to grow up. They won’t start a family, a business, or a
        community project.
        ————————————————
        White men are formally discriminated against in all major organizations and are culturally banned from starting their own organizations. These organizations increasingly bail themselves out using financial repression to continue their own existence. All of society has ran away from any type of responsibility for itself and white males have just started to take notice. People dont start families to be turned into quasi-felons by the family court system and even if you manage to stay together is it really worth it to take the kids off to daycare? Is it really worth the bother to do such things?

        • me

          I rest my case.

          • Epoche

            Wait for it, wait for it -MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN UP! For no god damn reason at all.

  • IstvanIN

    Africans have a much higher rate of multiple-sexual partners than do Whites.

  • IstvanIN

    Remember that is 50% of all marriages that end in divorce not 50% of all people who get married.