Funded Research by Theme

Intergenerational Influences on Marriage, Contraception and Childbearing

Intergenerational Influences on Marriage, Contraception and Childbearing

William G. AxinnBrady T. West, Erin Bakshis WareDirgha J. Ghimire

Family formation processes, including marriage, divorce, contraception and childbearing, are among the most important factors shaping the health and wellbeing of families and children. The substantial, long-term consequences of the parental family for children’s family formation outcomes are among the most well-documented forces of change in the social sciences. However, a powerful factor has been overlooked parental mental health. Not only are mental disorders highly prevalent the world over, but parental mental disorders are known to have powerful consequences for children, likely to shape their later life family formation processes. We will overcome this limitation by integrating parental mental health into intergenerational models of family formation using a 23-year, prospective family panel study.

To advance knowledge of these intergenerational processes using these new measures, we aim to: (1) Generate the first comprehensive estimates of the role of parental mental disorders in shaping their children’s subsequent marriage, divorce, contraception and childbearing; (2) Use DNA-based polygenic risk scores from mothers, fathers, and their children to assess omitted genetic variable bias in these intergenerational models; and (3) Create and evaluate new prospective measures of mechanisms likely to link parental mental disorders to their children’s marriage, contraceptive use, childbearing, and divorce.

The results will provide three significant advances. One is the first general population investigation of the intergenerational influence of parental mental disorders on children’s marriage, divorce, contraception and childbearing. A second is the first explicit integration of powerful new measures of genetic influences on both parent and child psychopathology and behavior. To date nearly all population models of intergenerational influences on family formation are forced to conclude that unobserved genetic similarities may account for observed associations. We will introduce a new generation of intergenerational research designs that integrate genetic propensities. The third is a significant advance in our understanding of the role played by children’s sexual partner transitions, sexual assault, contraception, substance use and episodes of mental illness in linking parental factors to family formation, as these factors could mediate this relationship. The results will significantly advance our understanding of the intergenerational influences on the dynamics of marriage, contraception, childbearing, and divorce, all of which are crucial for health and wellbeing.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Funding Period: 6/15/2020 to 2/28/2025