Children in Broken Homes—Twenty More Years of Research

Almost two decades ago, the flagship journal Social Forces published a landmark 1994 study analyzing the well-being of children living in different kinds of family structure. Now Elizabeth Thomson and Sara McLanahan, two of the authors of that original study, have published a retrospective commentary highlighting “the article’s popularity as a referent point for subsequent research” and underscoring the degree to which “subsequent research [has] confirmed many of [their] findings.” Using nationally representative data, the original 1994 study established that children living with married biological parents enjoyed significant advantages in academic performance and socio-emotional development over children living with stepparents, cohabiting parents, divorced single mothers, and never-married single mothers. This original study traced a large fraction of this advantage to differences in household income, a smaller fraction to differences in parenting practices. In the decades since the publication of the original study, researchers have confirmed the overall pattern it uncovered. These newer studies have, in fact, uncovered considerable evidence discrediting progressives’ claims that cohabitation is a perfectly functional replacement for traditional marriage. As Thomson and McClanahan remark, “The new research has shown that cohabiting biological parents are in many ways more similar to cohabiting stepfamilies than to married biological parents.” It turns out that both cohabiting biological parents and cohabiting stepfamilies are “economically disadvantaged in comparison to married biological parents or stepfamilies.” What is more, new studies have found that, compared to married biological parents, “cohabiting biological parents may also provide lower quality parenting” and “are more likely to separate.” The situation is even worse when children live with a biological mother cohabiting with a man biologically unrelated
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.