BGSU sociologist examines factors in child well-being

BOWLING GREEN, O.—In an article on "Marriage and Child Well-Being: Research and Policy Perspectives,” published this month by the Journal of Marriage and Family, Bowling Green State University sociologist Dr. Susan Brown states that children today are less likely to be born into a “traditional” family structure, defined as two biological married parents.

Growing numbers of children in the United States experience multiple family living arrangements during childhood. How these transitions affect the individual child’s well-being needs to be fully addressed by researchers and policymakers alike, says Brown, who is co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at BGSU. She has completed numerous federally funded projects, presented, and published widely on topics of cohabitation, race, age, violence, economics, mental health, poverty, and family structure in marriage and relationships.

She has fully reviewed the existing research from the past 10 years on these topics in an effort to guide and inform current policy debates about the role of marriage in reducing poverty and improving child outcomes.

“Family instability appears to negatively affect a child’s well-being in the short- and long-term,” Brown says. “But researchers are still exploring why family instability can be detrimental. Is it because of the number of transitions children experience, the types of transition, duration of time spent in diverse family environments or some other factors?”

In her article, Brown devotes special attention to new scholarship on unmarried, primarily low-income families, also the target of recent federal marriage initiatives, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Initiative.

“Child well-being is of critical importance,” Brown says. “What is clear is that living arrangements for children are increasingly varied and complex, and family instability is typically not good for children. Children’s family trajectories depend in part on their family structure at birth, as children born to unmarried mothers tend to experience greater family instability during childhood than to children born to married parents.”

Moreover, Brown asserts that children born to unmarried parents are unlikely to experience parental marriage, and parental marriage does not necessarily improve child well-being for those born to unmarried mothers. She points out that according to the research these more subtle factors may have modest but enduring consequences for the child in the long-term. Brown, “Marriage is not a panacea. It is possible that the negative outcomes are not due to family structure or family instability, but rather other unmeasured characteristics of the parents.”

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(Posted November 01, 2010 )