NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Family Circus

July 30, 2002

Many see two-adult households as superior for children. However , not all two-adult households are better for children than single-parent households.

Johns Hopkins University researchers investigated 2,100 low-income families from Boston, Chicago and San Antonio over a recent 16-month period. Researchers found that over the 16 months:

  • The percentage of children of low-income families living with two adults (including biological, step- and adoptive parents) increased from 34 percent to 38 percent.
  • However, nearly all of the increase resulted from the mother cohabiting with a man other than the child's biological father -- the number of children living with both biological parents actually declined by one percent.
  • Only 16 percent of cohabiting mothers had married, while 42 percent had ended the relationship.
  • In all, 22 percent of children in the study experienced a change in their living arrangements.

Many assume that children are better off in a two-parent household than in a single-parent household. However, studies show that stability seems to be a bigger factor in determining a child's well being. For instance, the number of family transitions is more important than number of parents in determining whether a teenage girl will get pregnant.

Source: Andrew J. Cherlin and Paula Fomby, "A Closer Look at Changes in Children's Living

Arrangements in Low-Income Families," Policy Brief 02-3, May 2002, Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study, Johns Hopkins University.

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