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Youth Statistics: Family Structure and Relationships

Family Structure

Seventy percent of children (under 18 years old) live with two parents, 23% with their mother only, 3% with their father only, and nearly 4% with no parent [1]. Two percent of children live with their grandparents without a parent present, and 1% live with other relatives without a parent [1]. (Note that "parents" include nonbiological parents and stepparents as well as biological parents and may be married or unmarried.) For much more detail, visit the Census Bureau's Living Arrangements of Children: 2019. The percentage of children living with stepfamilies has risen from 9% in 2010 to 11% in 2021 [2].

The statistics shift for children from low-income families. Over half (57%) of children living below 200% of the federal poverty threshold live with two parents, 35% live with their mother only, and 3% live with their father only [3]. Of these children, 13% are living with stepfamilies. These proportions also vary with age. Low-income adolescents (age 12-17) are more likely to live with a single parent or to not live with their parents than low-income children under 12 years old [3].

Generally speaking, the type of family structure matters less to a child's development than family relationships and stability [4]. In 2017, 97% of children reported no changes in the presence of their parent or parent's partner [5]. However, changes to family structure are more common in children living below the poverty line [5]. The quality of parents' relationship with one another makes a difference to their children in many ways. High quality marriages are associated with higher self-esteem and overall well-being in adolescent children [6].

In 2019, 22% of married same-sex couples and 14% of unmarried same-sex couples were raising children under 18 [7]. A review of research from 2010 to 2020 found that children raised in same-sex households experience similar health, behavioral, and educational outcomes compared to children raised in opposite-sex households [8].

Adolescents in Foster Care

In 2021, 3 out of 1,000 US children entered the foster care system [9]. About 1 in 5 of these children were ages 11 to 15 and 1 in 10 were ages 16 to 20 [10]. The largest proportion (44%) of children in the foster care system were living with a non-relative, followed by 35% living with a relative, and 9% living in a group home setting [9]. More than 1 in 3 foster care youth had at least three changes to their living arrangement in a year [9]. Just under half (40%) of youth spent less than a year in the foster care system [11].

Among adolescents (ages 17 to 19) transitioning out of the foster care system [9]:

  • 70% report having a high school diploma by age 21
  • 57% report being employed
  • 1 in 5 report experiencing homelessness
  • 1 in 5 report being incarcerated
  • 1 in 10 report becoming a parent

Additional statistics about youth in foster care can be found from Kids Count Data Center and Child Trends.

Adolescent Parents

The number of adolescents (15-19 years old) giving birth to children has fallen since a peak in 1991 [12]. In 2020, less than 5% of all births were to females ages 15-19 years [12]. These rates are higher among American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic adolescents. Additionally, 8% of men become fathers before the age of 20 [12]. Adolescent-headed family structures are diverse, but the most common structure is an unmarried adolescent mother living with other close family members [13]. Adolescent parents and their children are at an increased risk of lower educational attainment, poorer mental health outcomes, and poverty [13]. Despite these risks, it is important to note that most adolescent parents and their children do equally well compared to their peers when provided with strong social and functional support [13].


Parent-child connectedness is associated with a wide range of health indicators. Close, positive family relationships that feature open communication help young people stay healthy and avoid substance use, poor psychological health, risky sexual behaviors, and violent relationships [14, 15]. Family warmth and support, along with family management practices (e.g. shared meals, monitoring, parents' knowledge of their child's friends), can also play a role in positive developmental outcomes such as emotional regulation, curiosity, and adaptive coping [15, 16].

With respect to sharing ideas and talking about things that really matter, most parents of adolescents (age 12-17) feel they do this somewhat well or very well; only 7% feel they cannot communicate well [17]. Additionally, 86% of high school students reported that their parents or other adults in their family always or mostly know where they are going or who they will be with [18]. Finally, 81% of adolescents (age 12-17) report coming from families that can talk about family problems, work together to solve them, and stay hopeful in the face of these problems [19]. While parenting can be stressful, only 2% of children have parents who say they are not handling the demands of parenting well [20].

In 2019, parents of high school students reported engaging in the following family activities in the past week [21]:

  • Arts and crafts (20%)
  • Playing sports (54%)
  • Telling stories (46%)
  • Discussing ethnic heritage or family history (57%)
  • Playing a board game (37%)
  • Working on a project together (45%)

Additional statistics about youth in foster care can be found from Kids Count Data Center and Child Trends.

Time spent with siblings is also important to adolescents' happiness, especially in nonnuclear households [22]. In single-parent and stepparent families, older siblings may be especially important to teens' emotional well-being [22].

Family Meals

Eating meals together as a family has been shown to have nutritional, social, and personal benefits for children and adolescents. Frequent family meal consumption is associated with greater fruit and vegetable consumption, better nutritional status, and a lower risk of adolescent obesity [23, 24]. Additionally, frequency of family meals is associated with greater reported family connectedness and improved parent-child communication [23]. Adolescents who eat with their families, in particular, report feeling more loved and supported by their parents than those who do not eat with their families [25]. Finally, frequency of family meals is associated with higher self-esteem, better body image, and fewer risky behaviors, as well as decreased depression, anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts [24, 26].

About one in three adolescents age 12-17 eat with their families every day, and an additional 31% eat with their families on most days [27]. Asian and Hispanic children are more likely to eat every day with their families than are White or Black youth. Adolescents with family income below the poverty line are more likely to have near-daily family meals than are adolescents with higher incomes [27].

Fathers' Involvement

The vast majority of fathers (85%) say that being a parent is one of the most important aspects of who they are as a person [28]. The amount of time that fathers spend with their children is increasing. In 2022, fathers who lived with their children spent an average of 4.4 hours a day caring for their children compared to mothers who spent an average of 5.6 hours a day [29]. Additionally, 7% of fathers are stay-at-home dads, accounting for 1 in 5 stay-at-home parents [30]. However, two-thirds of fathers report spending too little time with their children [29]. One reason for this is that not all fathers live with their children. As of 2019, 1 in 5 fathers do not live with all of their children [29]. This proportion is higher among low-income fathers as well as Black and Hispanic fathers [31].

A 2018 study from the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse examined several measures of fathers' involvement [32].

Among fathers of children 5-18 who lived apart from their children:

  • 40% reported taking their child on outings, errands, or to activities at least once per week
  • 29% reported eating dinner with their child at least several times per week

Among fathers of children 5-18 who lived with their children:

  • 90% reported showing physical affection to their child or praising their children at least several times per week
  • 90% reported eating dinner with their child at least several times per week
  • 55% reported knowing everything or most things about their child's friends

Parental Involvement in Education

Parents' involvement with their child's education has been shown to be beneficial both to children's academic success and their overall well-being. Parental involvement is linked to higher school attendance, higher grades and test scores, better social skills and classroom behavior, and fewer risky behaviors (smoking, drinking, and teen pregnancy) [33, 34].

In 2019, parents of high school students reported engaging with their child's school an average of 7 times. The most common types of engagement were attending school or PTA meetings (80%), attending a school event (70%), and attending parent-teacher conferences (54%) [35]. Just over half of parents of high school students reported helping their children with homework at least once a week [21].


  1. Anderson, L. R., Hemez, P. F., & Kreider, R. M. (2022, February). Living arrangements of children: 2019.

  2. Westrick-Payne, K. K., & Wiborg, C. E. (2021). Children's Family Structure, 2021. National Center for Family & Marriage Research.

  3. Juteau, G., Brown, S. L., Manning, W. D., & Westrick-Payne, K. K. (2023). Exploring Family Structure Diversity Among Children in Families with Low Incomes. Child Trends.

  4. Murry, V. M., & Lippold, M. A. (2018). Parenting practices in diverse family structures: Examination of adolescents' development and adjustment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 28(3), 650-664.

  5. Scherer, Z., & Mayol-Garcia, Y. (2020). Transitions in Parental Presence Among Children: 2017. US Census Bureau.

  6. Wahyuningsih, H., Kusumaningrum, F. A., & Novitasari, R. (2020). Parental marital quality and adolescent psychological well-being: A meta-analysis, Cogent Psychology, 7(1).

  7. Walker, L., & Taylor, D. (2021). Same-Sex Couple Households: 2019. US Census Bureau.

  8. Reczek, C. (2020). Sexual- and Gender-Minority Families: A 2010 to 2020 Decade in Review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(1), 300-325.

  9. Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2022). Child Welfare and Foster Care Statistics.

  10. Annie E. Casey Foundation (n.d.). Kids Count Data Center: Out of Home Placement. [Select "Children in foster care by age group" indicator]

  11. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2021). Foster Care Statistics 2019. Children's Bureau.

  12. Office of Population Affairs. (n.d.). Reproductive Health and Teen Pregnancy. US Department of Health and Human Services.

  13. Savio Beers, L. A., & Hollo, R. E. (2009). Approaching the Adolescent-Headed Family: A Review of Teen Parenting. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 39(9), 216-233.

  14. Steiner, R. J., Sheremenko, G., Lesesne, C., Dittus, P. J., Sieving, R. E., & Ethier, K. A. (2019). Adolescent connectedness and adult health outcomes. Pediatrics.

  15. Gervais, C., & Jose, P. E. (2020). How does family connectedness contribute to youths' health? The mediating role of coping strategies. Family Process, 59(4), 1627-1647.

  16. Beckmeyer, J. J., Su-Russell, C., & Russell, L. T. (2020). Family management practices and positive youth development in stepfamilies and single-mother families. Family Relations, 69(1), 92-108.

  17. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2021 National Survey of Children's Health: Indicator 6.6.

  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Youth Online: High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

  19. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2021 National Survey of Children's Health: Indicator 6.12.

  20. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2021 National Survey of Children's Health: Indicator 6.16.

  21. National Center for Education Statistics. DataLab, National Household Education Survey: Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI).

  22. Wikle, J. S., & Hoagland, A. (2020). Adolescent interactions with family and emotions during interactions: Variation by family structure. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 544-554.

  23. Robson, S. M., McCullough, M. B., Rex, S., Munafo, M. R., & Taylor, G. (2020). Family meal frequency, diet, and family functioning: A systematic review with meta-analyses. Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior, 52(5), 553-564.

  24. Snuggs, S., & Harvey, K. (2023). Family mealtimes: A systematic umbrella review of characteristics, correlates, outcomes, and interventions. Nutrients, 15(13), 2841.

  25. Brown, S. L., Tuefel, J., Birch, D. A., & Abrams, T. E. (2019). Family meals and adolescent perceptions of parent-child connectedness. Journal of Family Studies, 25(1), 34-45.

  26. Victoria-Montesinos, D., Jimenez-Lopez, E., Mesas, A. E., Lopez-Bueno, R., Garrido-Miguel, M., Gutierrez-Espinoza, H., Smith, L., & Lopez-Gil, J. F. (2023). Are family meals and social eating behaviour associated with depression, anxiety, and stress in adolescents? The EHDLA study. Clinical Nutrition, 42(4), 505-510.

  27. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2021 National Survey of Children's Health: Indicator 6.9. [Select Survey Question, then indicator; edit search criteria at the indicator level to see data by subgroup.]

  28. Minkin, R., & Horowitz, J. M. (2023). Parenting in America Today. Pew Research Center.

  29. Graham, K., Manning, W. D., Payne, K. K., Brown, S. L., Guzzo, K. B., & Wildsmith, E. (2023). Celebrating and supporting fathers' roles in caring for children. Child Trends.

  30. Fry, R. (2023). Almost 1 in 5 stay-at-home parents in the US are dads. Pew Research Center.

  31. Livingston, G. (2018). Most dads say they spend too little time with their children; about a quarter live apart from them. Pew Research Center.

  32. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. (2018). Data Snapshot 2018: Father Involvement. US Department of Health and Human Services.

  33. Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020). Parental Involvement in Your Child's Education.

  34. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Ways to Engage in Your Child's School to Support Student Health and Learning.

  35. Hanson, R. & Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019. National Center for Education Statistics.

Page last updated February 9, 2024