We all hope that science is advancing at a fast rate. Occasionally the nature of what we are studying requires that our studies take a long time – a very long time. Such a long time in fact that all the people who initially thought of and begun the study have now passed away. We will discuss one such study.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development (81 years)
Starting in 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development alongside “The Glueck Study” have looked at the lives of 724 individuals, all men, surveying them every two years. These surveys consisted of questionnaires, information from physicians and often personal interviews. Two hundred and sixty-eight of these subjects have been part of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. At the time that this studies started these individuals were Harvard sophomores, with good physical and mental health. “The Glueck Study” on the other hand studied 456 non-delinquent individuals from the inner-city of Boston. The study is still on-going today.
The purpose of the study was to find predictors of healthy aging, as well as to see what led to success and happiness. The key insights from the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development have been published by George Vaillant, who directed the Grant Study for approximately 30 years. Here they are as stated in this Wikipedia article (the Grant study is a part of the Harvard Study of Adult Development):
- Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.
- Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives.
- Strongly correlates with neurosis and depression, which tended to follow alcohol abuse, rather than precede it.
- Together with associated cigarette smoking, was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.
- Financial success depends on warmth of relationships and, above a certain level, not on intelligence.
- Those who scored highest on measurements of “warm relationships” earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages 55 and 60).
- No significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.
- Political mindedness correlates with intimacy: Aging liberals have more sex.
- The most-conservative men ceased sexual relations at an average age of 68.
- The most-liberal men had active sex lives into their 80s.
- The warmth of childhood relationship with mothers matters long into adulthood:
- Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.
- Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.
- Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.
- The warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on “life satisfaction” at 75.
- The warmth of childhood relationship with fathers correlated with:
- Lower rates of adult anxiety.
- Greater enjoyment of vacations.
- Increased “life satisfaction” at age 75.
The main conclusion stated by Vaillant is that “warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction’.”
These findings highlight the importance of connection in our lives and show that being a generally warm person, alongside hard-work, is essential for success. I find that such studies push me to find spare time to be social as opposed to merely academic. Knowing how important relationships are for both happiness and success should drive people to focus on more than just themselves. Overall, such experiments give us insight into how we should focus our lives, and can be incredibly helpful when one ponders their core values.