It is no secret that the state of the family structure in the country is actively changing. A cross-sectional research study was conducted by Krueger PM, Jutte DP, Franzini L, Elo I, & Hayward MD (2015) titled Family structure and multiple domains of child well-being in the United States: a cross-sectional study. In it the researchers examined the association between various family structures and the impact on well-being based on specified parameters. I stumbled across this research via BrainPosts while perusing my Feedly and while not a neuroscientific article I found it an interesting topic of discussion. In particular, since I am a mother who is divorced and cohabiting. I’m going to summarize some components and clip parts of the research article, found here, below. Then let’s discuss!
It compared the following nine family structures:
- Married Couple
- Cohabiting Couple
- Single Mother
- Single Father
- Extended Married Couple
- Extended Cohabiting Couple
- Extended Single Mother
- Extended Single Father
- Skipped Generation (where the children are raised with their grandparents and their parents are not in their lives for whatever reason.)
*Extended is in reference to when at least one grandparent was available and provided direct care activity to the child.
It is important to note that married couples composed 67% of the sample, it would have been beneficial to have a higher population sample of the other structures to see how it would have impacted the overall results.
Using these structures, they calculated a child’s well-being based on four domains:
These were compared against socioeconomic statuses (SES) to see if it accounts for any of these changes. The measures of SES are as follows:
The study notes that between 1970 and 2013 in the U.S., during which time the following changes are noteworthy:
Barriers to Healthcare and Healthcare Utilization:
Children in cohabiting, single mother, skipped generation, and most extended families delay care for 1.19 to 1.78 times as many reasons as children in married couple families, but children in single father and extended single father families do not delay care for more reasons. Compared to children in married couple families, children in all other family structures have lower odds of having a routine place for care, and children in all other family structures except skipped generation families have higher odds of forgoing prescription medications and dental care due to cost. Results for health care utilization show that children in all but extended married couple and extended single mother families have higher odds of going without a well-child checkup than children in married couple families, and children in all non-married couple families have higher odds of going to the ER more times.
In terms of health care utilization, only children in single father families have higher odds of forgoing a well-child checkup than children in married couple families, after adjusting for SES, and children in single mother, extended single mother, and skipped generation families have lower odds of forgoing a checkup. But children in all non-married couple families, except single father families, have elevated odds of going to the ER more times.
Health, schooling, and cognitive outcomes:
Compared to children in married couple families, children in all other family structures have higher odds of having worse global health.
Children in single father families have lower odds of having the common cold or a medical condition that requires prescription medication for three or more months and similar odds of having the other five outcomes, compared to children in married couple families.
Results for the schooling and cognitive outcomes show that school-aged children in cohabiting, single mother, extended married couple, extended single mother, and skipped generation families miss 1.23 to 1.59 times as many days of school per year as children in married couple families. Living in any non-married couple family is associated with higher odds of having a learning disability or ADD/ADHD
The authors discuss how children are not equally disadvantaged across family structures:
- Single mother and extended single mother families fare worse than children in married couple families for almost all of the outcomes examined. They were also more likely to be reported as having several medical problems including headaches, ear infections, asthma and anemia
- Parents’ marital status matters – children in cohabiting couples have worse outcomes than children in married couple families, even after adjusting for SES. Children of married couples generally show higher markers of well-being.
- Presence of grandparents in extended families does not mitigate the negative outcomes among children who live in single parent or cohabiting families.
- Children in single father and, to a lesser extent, extended single father families are often less disadvantaged than children in single mother or extended single mother families, respectively — fewer ER visits, fewer missed school days, better global health status.
- Children in skipped generation families have worse health, schooling, and cognitive outcomes than children in married couple families, even after adjusting for SES. Even in the context of extended families, their presence did not appear to significantly buffer the effect of single parent on health well-being and other well-being measures.
While I found the results quite interesting, I also found them a bit discouraging but hopefully this information can be used to help improve the well-being of children in this country. There really needs to be more emphasis on resource accessibility for parents across the board based on the family structure they fall under, in particular for single mothers and grandparents. For starters more financial assistance and access daycare support for working parents and guardians. Regardless of where you are, it is very expensive to place your child in daycare, even before or after school care, and that alone can really strain the financial circumstances of a single-income household.
It is interesting that they found that cohabitation caused more adverse effect on a child’s well-being, especially since we tend to assume that with a partner is better than alone. The train of thought for this was that these unions are usually made up of younger individuals with less financial stability and are generally composed of “less capable” parents that lack the legal recognition of marriage.
There’s a really cool website called FamilyStructureStudies.com and from there, you can see the latest social science data about how children who were raised in different family types compare, as adults, on a variety of outcomes and measures. Take a moment to swing by there and poke around some statistics on how various family structures affect a child in the future.
It’s hard enough being a parent, especially with statistics that let you know where you’ll f*ck up. Check out the website above to see the likelihood of your child smoking marijuana, being unemployed, having an affair, and being touched sexually based on your current family structure. I am a divorced mother who cohabits with her partner but it’s comforting to know that he IS a suitable parental guardian and that our SES is stable enough where my son never has to go without medications due to financial strains. That I keep up with his annual check ups and dental appointments, and that he is provided the best academic and mental health resources at his school whenever he needs it. I love research articles and statistics, especially when it can provide an overall picture of how things are and/or can be, but it is important to remember that we are not a statistic but a parent, and an individual. As long as we do our best and put our children first, hopefully, we can help our children defy these statistics and their futures can be brighter, less complicated than the findings anticipate.
What is your current family structure? How do you feel about the findings of this cross-sectional research study?
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