Research Corner: How Family Structures Affect Child Well-Being

family structure

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:

  1. Married Couple
  2. Cohabiting Couple
  3. Single Mother
  4. Single Father
  5. Extended Married Couple
  6. Extended Cohabiting Couple
  7. Extended Single Mother
  8. Extended Single Father
  9. 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:

well being 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:

socioeconomic status

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. Presence of grandparents in extended families does not mitigate the negative outcomes among children who live in single parent or cohabiting families.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 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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  • Yulunda G.
    April 3, 2015 at 1:21 AM

    Wow! Single mother’s and grands need all the support they can give as they are such a huge percentage of this pie. It was interesting (but not surprising) to read how important the father role is and the impact it has on the children.

    I am confident that the father is the most important figure in a child’s life (outside the mother, of course) as a lot of the lack of self-esteem, etc. comes directly from, “Daddy Hunger!”

    The family structure in this country has changed drastically as I have two gay white male friends raising two black boys! Imagine that! It’s all good!
    Happy Blessed FriYAY!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 12:31 PM

      Indeed moms and grands need the most support; I was actually a little shocked at the overall well-being of a child with a single father versus a mother; I would love to elaborate the see more cross-comparisons between the single mother’s group and single father’s group since there was only 2% of the cases were single fathers which was used for this research versus the 16% of single mothers – so that could cause skewed data.

      I agree with that, a lot of issues stem from a lack of a father figure – but again, I’d also like to see if in the cases of each, a substitute or “role model” of the lacking/missing parent is in the picture and how this can be weighed against child well-being. Sometimes if there is no father, there is still an Uncle who can take on that role and circumvent the effects of no-father.

      It has changed indeed and I think it’s wonderful. It’s just knowing what resources are needed dependent upon the family structures and having the capacity to access it and have it available. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by gorgeous! Happy Easter Yulunda! -Iva

  • Melanie
    April 3, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    Fantastic post 🙂 thanks for sharing!
    Melanie @

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 12:33 PM

      You’re welcome and Happy Easter! Have a great time in Dallas Melanie -Iva

  • Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats
    April 3, 2015 at 9:23 PM

    This is an interesting article. I was not surprised that single parent and other structures generally fare worse than those coming from married couples. But it was a bit surprising to me that children of cohabitating couples fared worse than those of married couples…especially since these days more and more couples are choosing to either not get married or delay marriage. Perhaps there is a difference in the quality or stability of these relationships? I guess the cross-sectional nature of this study is also very important to keep in mind as it is not prospective…. Thanks for sharing:)

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 12:36 PM

      I was surprised by the same findings on cohabitation as you Jessica. I’m not sure either if it is the quality and stability; although I’m not surprised if that plays a major role. I feel it could be with a lack of communicating expectations – a lot of times one partner wants to get married and the other one not so much so they sing and dance until things fall apart. It’s one thing to not be married because you’re not in a hurry but it’s a different tango if one is specifically avoiding it or has no desire to. I feel this research is a great foundation for more elaborate and in-depth longitudinal studies that could take place. Exactly, it’s a great starting point but to really get more detailed information a longitudinal study would be ideal. You’re welcome Jessica and thank you for stopping by! Have a great Easter Sunday! -Iva

  • Noor Unnahar
    April 4, 2015 at 5:12 AM

    Such an interesting article, Iva. I was raised with both of my parents and few years with my mother and grands. Now I am with my step family and mother so it feels normal. It must have made impact on me if I had to be separate from my parents at a young age. Family structure means a lot.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 12:37 PM

      I didn’t know that but I’m glad things are normal for you now – I’m sure you having two parents helps and provides you with structure that both you and your sister need. I feel the age matters – my parents separated when I was 2 years of age so for me, seeing them apart, was normal. Seeing them together was weird and at least, their relationship is friendly and cordial so it was never an awkward situation for me. Glad all is well with your family now lovely 🙂 Have fun studying Economics Noor! Take Care -Iva

  • Jen
    April 4, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    This article was riveting and I agree, depressing. I was raised by a single mother and while she worked her butt off to make sure my sister and I never wanted for anything, we both grew up with significant daddy issues (and have a trail of bad relationships in our wake….including the one I’m currently in). Also makes me sad to think if I were to leave my marriage, my kids could potentially be at a disadvantage.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is partially because our working environment is still extremely sexist and disrespectful of mothers. When I had my second baby I was told to pump in a bathroom stall – one of four (so others would be hearing me/I would be hearing them use the bathroom while I attempted to create food for my newborn who I couldn’t stay home with because US laws do not protect new mothers and fathers from corporate regulations requiring them to return to work after only 3 months…and that’s if they can afford to take the pay cut…which many can’t when faced with medical bills and paying for a new baby).

    I would love to see an America that gave a shit about moms and treated them like the royalty they are. It’s reasons like this that make me want to completely abandon standard living according to USA and start living off the grid, where I can care for my babies, grow my own food, and make a living without the bullshit society tells me I need. Maybe then I could support my kids the way they need to be supported and reverse those horrible statistics just a smidge.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 12:53 PM

      I feel you on that – very few companies actually provide a mom with the sufficient amount of times that she needs. Unfortunately, corporate America emphasis overworking the public and doesn’t place high regards on Family time. Which is why we’re an exhausted bunch. I like the lax attitude of European countries, and liberation might I add. I feel we need to take a lesson or two in their priorities so maybe we can improve the level of happiness in this country; I think we’re like 12th on life satisfaction.

      Sorry to hear of your marital troubles – I’m once divorced and it wasn’t easy. I was fortunate to have family that provided a plethora of support for me while I was getting my life together and now that it is, for the most part, it’s just ensuring I repair any damage I see lol. My son is doing great but his father and I can barely speak to one another so I know it affects him but I can’t even fathom a way to repair it.

      That’s pretty horrible that they had you breast pump in their bathroom – I’m sorry but I’d sue. Lol That’s just NOT ok. They have another thing coming to make me breast pump in their filthy bathrooms!! Thanks for sharing your story lovely and hope you’re doing OK and have a wonderful weekend chicka!!! Take Care Jen -Iva

  • Tamara
    April 4, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Yipes – the statistics are sad!
    I grew up with a mom and a dad, but my father passed away and there was about a year or two with just my mom. Then it was the Brady Bunch.
    And now my kids have a mom and a dad. A son and a daughter. A dog and a white picket fence. I’m totally kidding about the fence.
    Parenting is hard enough, you’re right, and I don’t like seeing where I might mess up. And nothing is guaranteed ever.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 5, 2015 at 1:01 PM

      I found the statistics quite sad too but that’s our reality here. =\ I grew up with my parents separated. It was natural for me to see them apart since I was so young. I feel it didn’t affect me as much until we moved and I grew older. Growing up without him around I see affected me more than not but that’s me reflecting and looking back now that I’m older. At the time I didn’t really see the association. I just kind of brushed it off. Yeah it’s best to not over think and just watch Doctor Who, or whatever else tickles your fancy. 🙂 Have a great weekend and Happy Easter Sunday lovely Tam Tam! -Iva

  • Charlotte
    April 8, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    Very interesting article, Iva. I can’t even begin to imagine the struggles of a single parent having to care for a child, but was shocked that the children of single dads tend to fare well in terms of health care than those of single moms. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that dads tend to be monitored so closely–and I also think you’re right in your assumption that only 2% of men were monitored as opposed to a much higher percentage of single moms so that could have altered the results.

    I think I may have told you this, but I was actually born in France and my dad (who is American) was shocked that each month he received a check (hand delivered back then!) from the government to help pay for formula, diapers, etc. Sure, people pay high taxes, but if you knew your money was contributing to a nanny or childcare services, wouldn’t that make up for the extra expense??

    XOXO and thanks for the food for thought this morning!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      April 9, 2015 at 10:38 AM

      Yeah it’s a tough situation but it is what it is! We must all persevere someway, somehow. Hmm I’m not sure but that’s a good factor to take into consideration about the father’s being monitored more closely. That’s also assuming they’re in the legal system/being monitored – I’m sure if father’s are single father’s more likely than not, the mother passed away – so the circumstance would be interesting to note since more often the children go with the mother.

      Yes, I feel a larger sample would be more representative and would help draw a clearer picture but for now, those are the stats we’re given! 🙂 I agree with you entirely – if we know our money is going towards helping others which in turn, helps our economy – why not do it? I agree with you right there. Happy to share love and glad you enjoyed this read! Take Care gorgeous Charlotte and talk soon! -Iva


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