Friday, April 25, 2014

So poverty doesn't matter after all?

Conservative Perspective drew my attention to research reported in The New Zealand Herald. I cannot find any mention of it at the NatCen website.

Children raised by a single parent are no less happy than those living with two biological parents, a study has found.
Researchers from NatCen Social Research found family composition has "no significant effect" on the happiness of children. Rather, it is the quality of relationships at home which are most strongly linked to a child's well-being.
The results challenge the popular conception that children in two-parent families are more likely to be stable and content than those raised in "broken" homes.
Researchers analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which was made up of 12,877 children aged seven, in 2008, from across the UK. The children came from three family types: those living with two biological parents; those living with a step-parent and a biological parent; and those with just a single parent.
The seven-year-olds were asked the question: "How often do you feel happy?"
Of the children living with a lone parent, 36 per cent said they were happy "all the time" while the remaining 64 per cent reported being happy "sometimes or never".
Exactly the same percentages were recorded when the question was put to children from the other family types.
Why weren't percentages for "sometimes" and "never" reported separately? That's what would interest me. That nearly two thirds of all children are "sometimes or never" happy tells us very little. Also how would the responses differ amongst, say, a group of 12 year-olds?

The results were largely unchanged when other factors which could influence a child's well-being - such as their parents' social class or the affluence of the area in which they live - were taken into account.
So poverty doesn't matter after all. Poor children are just as happy as rich children, so that's that.
Jenny Chanfreau, a senior researcher at NatCen, said that a "happy, harmonious family dynamic" was crucial for child happiness, adding: "It's the quality of the relationships in the home that matters, not the family composition."
I am sure that is correct, but that quality rests largely on the well-being of the adult. It is a fact that single parents suffer more stress and mental ill-health (often linked to financial worry.)  One result is the higher likelihood of children in a single parent home being abused or neglected.
Ms Chanfreau told the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Leeds: "Getting on well with siblings, having fun with the family at weekends and having a parent who reported rarely or never shouting when the child was naughty were all linked with a higher likelihood of being happy."
The study's findings contradict previous research which indicates that family division is likely to have a detrimental effect on children.
Not on what we know of the "study's findings" so far, it doesn't. The many studies that have shown poorer outcomes for children in single parent families are based on actual findings in later life. That just over a third of single parent children say they are happy "all the time"  does not nullify the abundance of evidence that finds they tend to suffer more physical and mental ill health, substance abuse, interaction with police and justice systems, poorer academic achievement and broken relationships.
One 2008 report, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, claimed that children whose parents had split up were four and a half times more likely to develop emotional problems than those whose parents had stayed together.
- The Independent
National Statistics is the equivalent of Statistics NZ. They deal with reality as conveyed by statistics reported by many government agencies and gathered through various surveys. They are non-partisan and don't seek answers that fit a particular worldview.


Anonymous said...


I think this must be the report:


Anonymous said...

It looks like the original report didn't separate out the sometimes and never either.

But Appendix tables give some breakdowns -- and overall they are not as positive as the article.

e.g. Table C.2
The odds ratio of parents reporting kids feeling unhappy, downheared or low are
two parents natural/adopted 0.79
Two parents one step 1
Lone parent 1.23

e.g. table D.2
Proportion of youth with high wellbeing score
two parents natural/adopted 17%
Two parents one step 11%
Lone parent 11%

Proportion with low wellbeing score
two parents natural/adopted 15%
Two parents one step 22%
Lone parent 23%


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Much appreciated Mary.

I have glanced at it and already noted this finding which partially substantiates one of my comments (notwithstanding all adults are not parents):

"Being in a relationship appears to have a positive effect on
wellbeing. Results from the APS 2011-2012 dataset show that
having a partner was associated
with higher subjective wellbeing.

Adults who were married, in a civ
il partnership, or cohabitating
reported higher levels of wellbeing compared with those who were single, widowed or
divorced, after controlling for
other factors such as age...

Married people were almost twice as likely as those who we
re separated or divorced to rate their satisfaction with family or personal life as high."

The "quality relationships" with children, given so much weight in the press report, must be affected by the above finding.

Children were also asked "How often do you get worried?"

"The clear and consistent message was that neighbourhood matters for both self-reported happiness and not worrying. There was a strong relationship with area level deprivation, with 40% of young
children living in the least deprived tenth of wards reporting a lack of worry, compared with 24% of children in the most deprived wards...

Reduced odds of happiness were not only evident among those living in the most deprived areas: children in the most deprived half
of neighbourhoods had
significantly lower odds of happiness than those living in the most affluent tenth."

In NZ single parenthood is strongly correlated to living in the poorest deciles.

I think I'll go back to my Don Brash book now.

JC said...

This study is one of two logical steps to take when evaluating child well being in less than two natural parent homes.

The first is the hard one.. to accept there is a problem and work to encourage two natural parents in the home with at least one working.

The second (this study) is to polish the turd and move on.


macdoctor said...

Of course, all this study shows is something we have long known - children are naturally happy in most circumstances. It does not address the established fact that children in single parent homes are more likely to be abused, less likely to gain an education and, as adults, more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be employed.