Study: Kids just as happy in non-traditional families

A new British study shows that children are just as happy if they live with a step-parent, a lone parent or two biological parents.

The study found that what mattered to children was how the children were treated by their parents, rather than the number, or type, of parents they had.

The researchers here use “happiness” as an indicator of the children’s sense of well-being.

Investigators reported that they analyzed two sets of data on children from England. One drawn from a study of over 12,000 aged seven, and another set of data taken from a group of children aged 11 to 15.

Of course, this information flies in the faces of those who claim, based on not much actual science, that it’s best for children to be raised by two opposite-sex parents (“traditional families.”)

In a study presented at the annual meeting of the British Sociological Association, researchers presented their work on the data take from these two groups.

(Good guy) protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

(Good guy) protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

Their findings are below (emphasis added.)

Whether the children lived with two biological parents, with a step-parent and biologic parent, or in a single parent family, made no difference: 64% said they were happy ‘sometimes or never’, and 36% said they were ‘happy all the time’.

Even when the researchers statistically removed the effects of other factors such as parental social class so that the effects of family type were isolated, the results showed no significant differences.

Jenny Chanfreau, Senior Researcher at NatCen, told the conference that, in contrast, relationships with parents and other children were strongly linked with how likely the seven-year-olds were to be happy. For instance, factors such as getting on well with siblings and not being bullied at school were associated with being happy all the time.

Ms Chanfreau said they found a similar result when analysing another set of survey data on 2,679 children aged 11 to 15 in the UK– this also showed no significant statistical difference in the level of wellbeing among children in the three types of family when the effects of family type were studied in isolation.

[She] told the conference: “We found that the family type had no significant effect on the happiness of the [two groups of children.]

“It’s the quality of the relationships in the home that matters–not the family composition.

Getting on well with siblings, having fun with the family at weekends, and having a parent who reported rarely or never shouting when the child was naughty, were all linked with a higher likelihood of being happy all the time among seven-year olds.

“Pupil relations at school are also important–being bullied at school . . . [was] strongly associated with lower happiness in the seven-year-olds, for instance.”

The study found that relationships between the children, their siblings, parents and other children were important.

Parents who didn’t shout at their children to correct them, children who went on activities with their families, and a lack of being bullied at school all made the children happier, irrespective of whether the family consisted of a single parent, a step-parent or two biological parents.


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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • http://hunteratrandom.blogspot.com/ rmthunter

    This pretty much falls in line with a couple of recent studies from Australia that indicated that the children of same-sex parents were actually happier and better adjusted than their peers from “traditional” families. The researchers hypothesized that it was the quality of the relationships within the families that made the difference — they thought that communication was better in the families headed by same-sex couples, and that the parents actually listened to their kids, instead of just talking to (at) them.

  • pappyvet
  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    They’ve been flailing to find some reason:
    (1) That isn’t “because our God says gay people are icky.”
    (2) They think will resonate among people who don’t actually believe gay people are icky
    (3) Will somehow pass muster in the courts as a reason not based on anti-gay animus, homophobia, or a religious opinion not shared by everybody

    So they’ve been shot-gunning. They don’t care they’re dissing adoptive parents, people who are infertile but would like a child, adults beyond childbearing years, and every heterosexual adult who wants to marry but doesn’t want kids. All they care about is oppressing gay people, and since they can’t do the directly targeted anti-gay sniping like is happening in Russia and many African nations, they’ll blast everything and everyone.

  • lynchie

    They have absolutely no solutions. Just judgements. Have abortion then go to hell. Raise kid along then go to hell. Be adopted then go to hell. Never do they offer a hand and hope to these people they just want to judge them and rule them yet they themselves are never the christian poster boys they claim. Affairs, liars, cheating, divorces, stealing you name it they do it but they want to make rules other people have to live by.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Nor repealing Obamacare often enough.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Aye, I noticed that. Child has crappy home and lousy parents. Something changes massively. Kid has exciting adventures and is far happier in the new circumstances.

  • pappyvet

    LOL way too good ! Yep he was a hunk. My my heavy sigh. ;]

  • slappymagoo

    If kids are just as happy in non-traditional families this can only mean one thing.

    We’re not talking about Benghazi enough.

  • emjayay

    Matilda is the same story, essentially. Probably a lot of that sort of thing in older kid/YA novels.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM
  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Interesting coincidence there. My father voted for Wallace — and kept on doing so in every election since then, even after Wallace died. Used to brag about it regularly.

    Y’know, it occurred to me how one of the huge appeals of the Harry Potter story had to do exactly with his family situation. Ideal, loving parents ripped away, replaced by Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia — in conditions most would consider outright child abuse. Then Harry finds out he’s special and acquires not only a new ‘home’ (Hogwarts) but several replacement parental figures (Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin) and even welcomed into a family that is everything he ever could’ve wanted (the Weasleys). Anyway, I could tell from my own perspective, that’s why the series pulled me in, even with my own childhood decades past.

    Take care, dear friend & brother.

  • pappyvet

    A massive chocolate covered Randolph Scott ,” I’ll back your play Maam” , love them chaps , snapping at every asshole that walks by , home grown , gilt edged , triple cheese four topping , gargantuan Cecil B. Demille , hug ! With real maple syrup.

  • pappyvet

    My wonderful sister. Would that I could have taken those stripes myself. Not that I didn’t have some of my own. Dad was a W.W.2 Vet. Anzio. Staunch republican. He even voted for George Wallace. I was not highly regarded to put it mildly. Even after my own enlistment the best he could do was to say that it “figured” that I would join the Navy. I understood exactly what he was driving at. Charlie was never allowed to visit with me which was kind of a blessing in disguise.
    And though it is harsh to say it, I would have rather been raised by anyone who had …well you know. ;]

  • Quilla

    Duh!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yeah well… a proper researcher would’ve come to the question by asking, “I wonder which types of family structures are, on average, best for children. I’ll find a large random sample, make sure there are proper controls on variables, be sure to classify my sample members correctly, perform an unbiased analysis to the best of my abilities…and then let the data speak for itself.”

    As opposed to, “I’m going to prove gays and lesbians are bad parents. I don’t care if the sample and collected data is crap, I’ll make it prove my foregone conclusion.”

  • LanceThruster

    Just like with pets. When love is shared, love grows. Pretty simple really.

  • docsterx

    Regnerus feels that having a pair of opposite-sex parents is better than other alternatives. Supposedly, the children of these couples have fewer issues.

    Presumably, most of the Republican members of Congress were raised by opposite-sex parents. The majority of them (Issa, Boehner, Bachmann, Gohmert, Radel, McAllister, Ryan, Cantor, Grimm, et al.) have major issues. Seems to make a case that opposite-sex parenting often FAILS.

  • keirmeister

    No. Effen. DUH.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    In this case, it’s a little too personal to be up on the front page. I’m okay with writing something like this in the comments…but even after 51 years on this planet, the feelings remain somewhat raw. Thank you though, you’re most kind.

  • Strepsi

    Beautifully written. Hugs from Canada! John should turn this into its own post.

    Becca, this is why one of my pet peeves is the saying “blood is thicker than water.”

    Whenever someone in my own (historically homophobic) extended family attempts guilt with this line, I say something like “The fact that most of the kids living on the street were escaping abusive parents, or were gay and thrown out of their own families by those blood parents, puts the lie to that one.”

  • Strepsi

    …and the never EVER act on the logical conclusion of that belief and attempt to ban divorce for instance, or force pregnant women to wed the father. Nope. Just anti-gay.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Indeed. One of my earliest best friends was being raised by his divorced mother and her parents. He was pretty happy. I knew other kids who were adopted, and one girl in particular was actually proud of it, saying, “My parents PICKED me!”

    Single-parents. Foster parents. Relatives. It’s about the quality of the parenting itself, not whether there’s a book-ended set of opposite-sex biological-related-to-child heterosexuals doing it.

  • cole3244

    i would venture a guess that there are more kids abused in traditional families than supposed non traditional ones and that is taking into account the difference in the numbers of the two separate categories.

    ps – fewer men less violence at least on the heterosexual side.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Even if that were better, it’s just always possible. This is what burns me up about these assholes. Yes, you can create your ideal family situation. But here in reality, most of us had to make the best of what we had to work with. A lot of people, to their credit, do really well in spite of unstable finances or the death of one of the parents or natural disasters or whatever might happen. That’s what REAL people do. We make the best and keep going. Help for people who are having a hard time is welcome. Being belittled because they aren’t upper middle class, heterosexual, suburban fantasies of the religious right is not useful to anyone.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I don’t know why the religious right has taken up this “biological parents” only argument. Everyone knows people who adopted children. Most of them really wanted to be children. (Unlike all the “accidents” out there that weren’t wanted.) Every church of any size has a couple that adopted. What a great thing for people to do. Why crap on them? What do they think happens to the children who aren’t adopted? Bounced around from one foster home to the next? Yeah, that sound really ideal. What the fuck is wrong with these people. They are against abortion and apparently now also again adoption? Do they have any practical solutions for any real world problems?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And if you noticed, when pressed, Regnerus could not articulate WHY it was inherently better to be raised by biologically-related heterosexual parents.

    Then again, a man who deliberately manipulated and misrepresented data could hardly be trusted to care about the scientific validity of his predestined conclusions. He was hired — and eager — to produce a paper to suggest gay and lesbian couples were lousy parents. Despite having no evidence this was the case, he published anyway.

  • lynchie

    You are right. I read this article more as a positive regarding gay couples, but, with the huge number of single parents who raise kids it absolutely applies to them as well.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’d have given anything not to be hit. Not to be yelled at. Not to be belittled. Not to spend night after night with my pillow crammed over my head so I couldn’t hear my parents screaming at each other.

    I’d have given anything if my parents realized my one brother’s teasing and destruction of his siblings property and his theft was somewhat pathological, and didn’t equate complaining about it with the acts themselves, in terms of being deserving of punishment. (This brother would later go on to become a drug addict who stole from the family to support his habit.)

    I’d have given anything not to be bullied in school, to feel like the adults were on my side and would look out for me. For the message to be, “We’ll put a stop to it” and not “You need to fight back.” (Yeah, like that’s going to work when the bullies roam in packs and all of them are twice your size…)

    I’d have given anything not to be indoctrinated with certain beliefs such that it took until my 30s before I came to terms with my own sexual orientation…and didn’t have my suspicions confirmed immediately then, that had I come out in my teens, I’d very likely have been murdered by one of my parents.

    And it was with some degree of complicated shame how often I’d have given anything for a particular fantasy/day-dream to become true, for my ‘real’ parent or parents to show up and take me away from all that.

    Yet we have the unsubstantiated assertion — with no particular measured or even theorized causality associated with it — that being raised by one’s biological parents, who must be heterosexual and one of each gender is inherently (yet inexplicably) superior to every other type and form of family.

    A child’s happiness and contentment never whether the family is ‘traditional’ (a word that really doesn’t mean anything either, other than what people like Regnerus and Marks want it to mean). It’s whether or not the child is being raised in a loving, nurturing, and safe environment.

  • Silver_Witch

    One loving mom can do a pretty good job – two loving people a lot easier and with a village of people that love children the world could really rule. Love Rules – Haters Drool.

  • Silver_Witch

    Well said Pappyvet. You have it done…just like hate – love will reproduce itself in anyone who experiences and lives it! I agree that love knows no bounds – let love grow!

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    “All you need is love. John Lennon. Smart man. Shot in the back, very sad.”

  • lynchie

    Common sense finding. Every one responds to a positive atmosphere that promotes love, security and understanding. Raising kids is tough but two loving parents makes it a lot easier.

  • Bose

    I loved the ridiculousness of Mark Regnerus testifying in Michigan that being raised by biologically-related parents is essential to children’s well-being. This study’s results are so much more credible.

    I’ve had family members with beliefs similar to Regnerus’ who took bible verses about sins of the father and the like to say that it wasn’t just the parents, it was the entire family tree — you needed to be connected with it, and yet a tainted branch anywhere made you more likely to be afflicted by evil forces.

  • pappyvet

    Children bond with love. Ugly or handsome , gay or not. Warmth and encouragement and knowing that no matter what they are wanted. If more people were to bring the childlike acceptance of love into their lives ,they would quickly see a world where bigotry was not simply unacceptable but nonexistent

  • Silver_Witch

    You are right Doc…there is really only one thing children need to be happy. Love!!! Not money, not financial prosperity – just love. Love can overcome so many things. A hug when one is scared, a talk about how sometimes life is not fair and sometimes we have so many things to overcome with reassurance that you (the child) is the most important component in any equation in overcoming challenges. A direction to keep on trying, keep on going, keep on keeping on. And a steady hand to struggle with homework, schools issues and the challenges that sometimes adults forget are so hard for the wee ones among us.

    Or as your very last and most important paragraph says “Parents who didn’t shout at their children to correct them, children who went on activities with their families, and a lack of being bullied at school all made the children happier, irrespective of whether the family consisted of a single parent, a step-parent or two biological parents.”

    Love, hugs, love and more hugs!!! Works every time.

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