Research Confirms Two Parents Better Than One
Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 10:27 am
Press Release: Lindsay Mitchell
Tuesday, 3 July, 2007
Research published in the July 2007 on-line journal of the International Child and Youth Care Network confirms that the best environment for children to be raised in is with two biological married parents.
Welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell says the research is significant for two reasons. "Firstly it represents meta-analyses of large numbers of studies, and second, it appears in a non-political, non-religious forum."
"Changes in US family structure are similar to those experienced in New Zealand, if not quite as dramatic. For instance in 2005, 36.8 percent of US births were non-marital compared to 45.2 percent in New Zealand."
Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, examined the effect of family formation on children and what accounted for the differences between children raised by two biological parents and those raised by one. He looks at a variety of situations for children including having happily married parents, unhappily married parents, divorced parents, co-habiting parents, one parent from birth, step-parents and a widowed parent.
Overall the evidence is consistent that parental divorce during childhood is linked with a wide range of problems in adulthood. Similarly children growing up with a single parent because they were born out of marriage are more likely to experience a variety of emotional and behavioural problems. He says, "Specifically, compared with children who grew up in stable, two-parent families children born outside marriage reach adulthood with less education, earn less income, have lower occupational status, are more likely to be idle (that is , not employed and not in school), are more likely to have a non-marital birth (among daughters) have more troubled marriages, experience higher rates of divorce and report more symptoms of depression.'"
Interestingly Amato found children with co-habiting parents also had increased problems because co-habiting parents were more disadvantaged and the risk of relationship dissolution was substantially higher. "Growing up with two continuously cohabiting biological parents is rare. "
Experiencing the death of a parent also puts children at greater risk but not as much as does divorce or out-of-marriage birth.
Children in high conflict households experienced problems similar to those of divorced children or worse. But the majority of marriages that end in divorce were low-conflict. Partners were emotionally estranged. They did not fight frequently or express hostility to each other. While these parents viewed a separation as positive, their children often viewed it as 'unexpected, inexplicable and unwelcome' .
Where step-families survive, relationships can become supportive and close but often step- family formation is stressful for children involving loss of autonomy and upheaval. "Studies consistently indicate, however, that children in step-families exhibit more problems than do children with continuously married parents and about the same number of problems as do children with single parents."
Answering the question, why do single-parent families put children at risk, Amato examines economic hardship, the quality of parenting, exposure to stress and the likelihood of geneitc predispostion to traits that had 'selected' their parent into single parenthood.
Amoto concludes, "Compared with other children, those who grow up in stable, two-parent families have a higher standard of living, receive more effective co-parenting, are emotionlly closer to both parents (especially fathers) and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances."
Responding to this research Mitchell comments, "It is both astonishing and deeply disappointing that despite overwhelming evidence many governments persist with social policies that undermine marriage. For forty years New Zealand has subsidised one parent families at the cost of two parent families. It is time the state adopted a far more neutral position allowing the course of family formation to revert to what works for children. "
Full paper available at www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0707-amato.html