Family Stability May Be More Crucial Than Two Parents for Child Success
The advantage that children get from living in two-parent families may actually be due to family stability more than the fact that their parents are married. A new study finds that children who are born and grow up in stable single-parent homes generally do as well as those in married households in terms of academic abilities and behavior problems.
“Many of the studies that show an advantage for children who grow up in married households vs. those who grow up with single parents don’t distinguish between family structure and family stability,” says Claire Kamp Dush, PhD, the study’s author and an assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University. This study examined children who were born to always-single mothers—not those whose mothers were single as a result of a divorce, she says.
Kamp Dush says she is not suggesting that there are no advantages for children living in two-parent homes. Particularly for black families, the study did find ways in which children did better with two parents. However, careful study suggests that white and Hispanic children can do well living in single-parent homes if they have a stable home environment.
For her study, Kamp Dush used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative survey of people nationwide conducted by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research. Men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979 were interviewed annually from 1979 to 1994, and once every two years from 1996 forward. The NLSY also studied these participants’ children and Kamp Dush used detailed information gathered on these children, who were between the ages of 4 and 15 between 1986 and 2004.
The full sample for her study included 4,910 mothers and 11,428 children. She analyzed data on four variables for the children: reading and math test scores; a measure of behavioral problems; and a measure of home environment, which looked at levels of cognitive stimulation and emotional support.
Results showed that for white and Hispanic children from stable single-parent and married families, there was no significant difference in math and reading test scores. However, black children had lower test scores if they lived in a single parent home than if they lived in a married home.
There were no significant differences in behavior problems for children of any race if they lived in stable single-parent homes or in stable married households. The only consistent advantage among all races for children in married households was a better home environment in terms of cognitive stimulation and emotional support.
Overall, Kamp Dush said the results deliver good news to single parents who provide a stable home environment for their children. “I don’t think we can say that growing up in a stable single parent home is necessarily worse than growing up with two married parents,” she says.
— Source: Ohio State University