Partial truths from family research

Respected US research organisation Child Trends has
published a study showing that children tend to do well when their
parents have a happy relationship -- and vice-versa. So far, so good.

In more detail the researchers

Almost without exception, the lowest levels of positive child
outcomes are found among children in families where the parent reports that
their relationship is “not too happy.” In contrast, the best child outcomes are
found almost without exception among children whose parents report that their
relationship is “completely happy.” Positive child outcomes for children whose
parents report a “very happy” relationship are generally second highest, and
children whose parents have a “fairly happy” relationship fall next.

This pattern holds across various subgroups of child gender,
child age, family type, race and ethnicity, immigrant status, parent education,
and family income.

Wait a minute, says family
scholar Elizabeth Marquardt
. We know that family type does make a
difference to child outcomes.

But let’s take a look at the data on which they base these conclusions. Turn
with me to Table
and examine the column called “family type.”

When the parents’ relationship was reported as “completely happy,” here are
the percentages of parents who report that their child has behavior problems,
by type of family:

Married parents (biological or adoptive): 4

Married step: 9

Cohabiting (bio or adoptive): 6

Cohabiting step: 11

In other words, in this very large sample of 64,000
children, among those who had a parent reporting that the relationship of
the adults in the home was “completely happy,” the children in
stepfamilies were over twice as likely to be reported as having behavior
problems compared to children living with their own married parents.
The children in a cohabiting step arrangement (translation: in most cases,
mom living with her boyfriend) were almost three times as likely to have
these problems.

Marquardt makes a couple more important points about the
difference marriage makes, which you can read on the Family
Scholars blog
. Why would Child Trends not want to acknowledge that, she
wants to know. What do they have against marriage?

And, we could add, how much do they really care about children? These are questions which we could address to many apparently
scientific enterprises.


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