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ACT for Youth

Youth Statistics: Family Structure and Relationships

Source: 2019-20 National Survey of Children's Health

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.

Generally speaking, the type of family structure matters less to a child's development than family relationships and stability [2]. The quality of parents’ relationship with one another makes a difference to their children in many ways. A Child Trends analysis found that whether parents are married or cohabitating, parental relationship quality -- how happy parents are in the relationship -- is associated with children's behavior problems, social competence, school engagement, and depression [3].

Connectedness

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 [4, 5]. 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 [5, 6].

While parenting can be stressful, only 2% of children have parents who say they are not handling the demands of parenting well [7]. With respect to sharing ideas and talking about things that really matter, most parents of teens (age 14-17) feel they do this somewhat well or very well; only 6% feel they cannot communicate well [8].

Time spent with siblings is also important to adolescents' happiness, especially in nonnuclear households [9]. In single-parent and stepparent families, older siblings may be especially important to teens' emotional well-being [9].

Family Meals

Adolescents join their families for a meal less often as they grow older, but do benefit when they eat regularly with their parents [10]. Frequent family meals are associated with higher self-esteem and positive academic outcomes, as well as decreased depression, alcohol and substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior [10]. Adolescents who join three or more family meals each week also have healthier eating patterns, including greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins, and reduced likelihood of eating unhealthy foods, among other outcomes [11]. Girls in particular are less likely to have disordered eating patterns [10].

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 [12]. 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.

Fathers' Involvement

A National Center for Health Statistics analysis of the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth looked closely at several measures of fathers' involvement with their children [13].

Among fathers and children who lived apart:

  • 16% of fathers talked with their school-aged child every day about things that had happened during the child's day.
     
  • Younger fathers (age 15-24) were more likely to have eaten a meal with their child in the previous four weeks than were older fathers.
Among fathers and children who lived together:
  • 65% of fathers talked with their school-aged child every day about things that had happened in their child's day.
     
  • 70% of black fathers had bathed, dressed, or diapered their young children, or helped them use the toilet, every day (compared with 60% white fathers and 45% Hispanic fathers).
     
  • Black fathers (27%) of school-aged children were more likely to take their children to or from activities every day than were white fathers (20%).
     
  • 41% of black fathers helped their children with homework every day (compared with 29% Hispanic fathers and 28% white fathers).

Endnotes

[1]   Anderson, L. R., Hemez, P. F., & Kreider, R. M. (2022, February). Living arrangements of children: 2019.
census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2022/demo/p70-
174.pdf

 
[2]   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.
doi.org/10.1111/jora.12390
 
[3]   Moore, K. A., Kinghorn, A., & Bandy, T. (2011). Parental relationship quality and child outcomes across subgroups.
childtrends.org/?publications=parental-relationship-quality-and-c
hild-outcomes-across-subgroups

 
[4]   Steiner, R. J., Sheremenko, G., Lesesne, C., Dittus, P. J., Sieving, R. E., & Ethier, K. A. (2019). Adolescent connectedness and adult health outcomes. Pediatrics.
doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3766
 
[5]   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.
doi.org/10.1111/famp.12514
 
[6]   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.
doi.org/10.1111/fare.12412
 
[7]   Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2019-2020 National Survey of Children•s Health: Indicator 6.16.
childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=8777&r=1
 
[8]   Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center. (2021). Youth ages 14 to 17 who can share ideas or talk about things that really matter with their parents in the United States, 2018-2019.
datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/11195-youth-ages-14-to-17-wh
o-can-share-ideas-or-talk-about-things-that-really-matter-with-th
eir-parents?loc=1

 
[9]   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.
doi.org/10.1037/fam0000625
 
[10]   Harrison, M. E., Norris, M. L., Obeid, N., Fu, M., Weinstangel, H., & Sampson, M. (2015). Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Canadian Family Physician, 61(2), e96-e106.
 
[11]   Hammons, A. J., & Fiese, B. H. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics, 127(6), e1565-e1574.
doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-1440
 
[12]   Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (n.d.). Data query from the 2019-20 National Survey of Children's Health: Indicator 6.9.
childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=8748&r=1&g=936 (Edit search criteria to see data broken down by race/ethnicity, household income level, etc.)
 
[13]   Jones, J., & Mosher, W. D. (2013, December 20). Fathers' involvement with their children: United States, 2006-2010. National Health Statistics Reports Number 71.
cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr071.pdf