CDC Reports: Children’s Health and Family Structure

A couple new government reports have focused on the well-being of children in the United States. The first one focused on adverse family experiences1 and discovered that those “children living with neither of their parents are 2.7 times as likely as those living with both biological parents, and more than twice as likely as children living with one biological parent, to have had at least one adverse experience such as those shown in the figure below.”

What’s worse is that children “living with one parent are fifteen times as likely to have had four or more adverse experiences as those living with two biological parents, and for children in nonparental care that number rises to thirty.” It is important to point out that “researchers did not control for household income or other demographic factors, and that the reported adverse experiences, apart from financial deprivation, include those that occurred at any time in the child’s life. That means, for instance, that the many adverse experiences of children in foster care may have preceded (and led to) their being placed in foster care, or that the violence or drug use of one biological parent could have led to the child living exclusively with the other biological parent…Nevertheless, the figures are a striking illustration of how children in the care of both biological parents are most likely to escape adverse experiences.”

The second report provides a snapshot of children’s health in the United States and its relation to family structure. Overall, those in nuclear families (i.e. children “living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family”) fared better than those in other family structures. Children in nuclear families were least likely to be in “good,” “fair,” or “poor” health as opposed to “very good” or “excellent” health.

Percentages of Children in Good, Fair, or Poor Health by Family Structure
Percentages of Children in Good, Fair, or Poor Health by Family Structure

Data on chronic conditions and behavioral issues produced similar findings. “Although some confounding factors were controlled for…the researchers emphasize that since they simply measured family structure and child outcomes at a single point in time, their findings still cannot be used to make conclusions about causality. Prior research, they note, suggests that the arrow may go both ways…And obviously, family structure is one among many factors that matter for children’s health. In the CDC data, lower socioeconomic status (conditions of poverty or near-poverty, or parental educational attainment of no more than a high school diploma) was associated with worse health outcomes for children in every type of family, and sometimes it essentially drowned out the association between family structure and health. On the other hand, family structure and stability are associated with children’s health in many parts of the developing world, where access to health care is limited and where single-parent families are actually less likely than nuclear families to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. Teasing out all the determinants of children’s health will take more research than is currently available, but at this stage, family background seems in many cases to be one significant factor.”

Check out the full reports.

2 thoughts on “CDC Reports: Children’s Health and Family Structure”

  1. It appears to me, based on the methodology, that these figures are better indicators than they are predictors. As such, they are not terribly useful for supporting advocacy of the nuclear family, as I’m sure some will be inclined to do.

  2. I agree, Tyler. The snapshot data would be a weak case for nuclear family advocacy. The one on adverse experiences comes closer, though one would still have to be careful with how they make their case.

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