Family life comes with a virtually infinite number of variables, from the age of the parents to the location of the family to their economic status and cultural values. Because no two families are identical, it helps to take facts with a grain of salt; although statistics paint a positive picture for the children of two-parent families, plenty of kids from single-parent families also experience a loving upbringing and a successful adulthood. Nonetheless, knowing the hard facts and stats helps you create an informed view of the two-parent family.
In the United States, 69 percent of children aged 0 to 17 lived with two parents in 2011, according to data from the Federal Interagency on Child and Family Services. The same source reports that 65 percent lived with two married parents, while 27 percent resided with one parent and 4 percent with no parents. (Of the last group, the majority lived with grandparents.) Seven percent of American children lived with parents in a cohabiting union, which includes a parent and a cohabiting partner or two cohabiting parents.
Children from two-parent homes, specifically biological parent homes, typically exhibit more positive developmental outcomes than single-parent children. A 2012 study from Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin Madison finds that on average, compared to children from single-parent families, two-parent children scored higher on cognitive ability tests and exhibited fewer internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems. Parentage and crime also correlate. "The Atlantic" reports that studies conducted in 1987 found only 30 percent of those in juvenile custody grew up with both parents, a number that shrank to 13 percent by 1994. Although more recent data is not available, experts believe that the trend continues; single-parenthood researchers Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan say that single-parent children have “significantly higher odds of incarceration than those from mother-father families.”
The Economic Angle
In America, about 10 percent of children in a two-parent family live below the poverty line, according to a 2011 article from the Witherspoon Institute of New Jersey. This statistic compares extremely favorably with single-parent families; in contrast, the same source reports that 66 percent of single-parent children live below the poverty line. This increase in poverty is often owed to the lack of combined parental income, and the potential toll that divorce takes on a woman's income level, according to Witherspoon and Nicolas Wolfinger of the University of Utah's Family and Consumer Studies department.
The Flip Side
Growing up with a single parent does not spell automatic doom for children. While most studies focus on the potentially negative aspects of single-parent families compared to two-parent families, the HELP Family Service Center -- an affiliate of the National Council of Social Service -- points out that single-parent children stand to benefit in ways that are more difficult to quantify. Possible benefits include a greater sense of unity and consistency in the household, a lessened chance of witnessing parental tensions, and the potential for forging closer, more emotionally supportive parent-child relationships.
- ChildStats.gov: Family and Social Environment
- The Witherspoon Institute: The Two-Biological-Parent Family and Economic Prosperity: What's Gone Wrong
- Princeton University: Child Wellbeing in Two-Parent Families: How Do Resources, Relationships and Parenting Matter?
- The Atlantic: The Real, Complex Connection Between Single-Parent Families and Crime
- HELP Family Service Center: Growing Up with One Parent: How Your Children Can Benefit
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images