Staying together 'for kids' sake' isn't always best

Jun 01, 2009 By Susan Lang

(PhysOrg.com) -- The research is clear: Adolescents tend to fare better -- academically and behaviorally -- when they live with both biological parents. But when their parents frequently argue, young adults are significantly more likely to binge drink than other teenagers. They also tend to smoke, and their poor school grades are similar to those of their peers who don't have both biological parents at home.

"Our findings suggest that exposure to parental conflict in adolescence is associated with poorer , increased substance use and early family formation and dissolution, often in ways indistinguishable from living in a stepfather or single-mother ," said Kelly Musick, Cornell associate professor of policy analysis and management.

Musick is the lead author of a study that looked at how teenagers in 1,963 households in the National Survey of Families and Households fared from their teens to early 30s. She compared those who lived with married parents who often fought with those living in stepfather or single-mother households. Musick and co-author Ann Meier of the University of Minnesota looked at such outcomes as school success, substance abuse and childbearing out of wedlock.

Their work, which has been presented at meetings of the Population Association of America and the American Sociological Association, is published as a report from the California Center for Population Research at the University of California-Los Angeles; it is summarized in "The Rural New York Minute," a publication of Cornell's Community and Rural Development Institute.

"Our results clearly illustrate that the advantages of living with two continuously married parents are not shared equally by all children," said Musick. "Compared with children in low-conflict families, children from high-conflict families are more likely to drop out of school, have poor grades, smoke, binge drink, use marijuana, have early sex, be young and unmarried when they have a child and then experience the breakup of that relationship." Income and parenting styles did not account for these differences, she added and the timing and sequence of such young adult transitions, are important indicators for success in later life.Interestingly, for half these outcomes, "associations with parental conflict are statistically indistinguishable from those with stepfather and single mother-families, said Musick. While from high-conflict households, compared with stepfather or single-mother families, are significantly less likely to drop out of high school, have early sex and cohabit, and are more likely to attend college; they are also significantly more likely to binge drink.

"The odds of binge drinking are about a third higher for children from high-conflict families compared to single-mother families," Musick said.

The bottom line, she said, is that children in high-conflict married households tend to do no better than those in stepfather and single-mother families. How well parents manage their anger and conflict is obviously important for the outcomes of children, but, she stressed, policy initiatives that promote marriage "need to take account of how variation within marriage relates to child well-being."

More information: The full report (pdf).

Provided by Cornell University (news : web)

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Children's sex affects parents' marital status

May 23, 2006

Parents with a boy and a girl are more likely to stay married, or get married if they were unmarried when their children were born, than those with two boys or two girls according to new research from ANU economist Dr Andrew ...

Low Grades, Bad Behavior? Siblings May Be To Blame

Apr 22, 2008

We all know the story of a man named Brady and the group that somehow formed a family. But if the iconic ‘70s sitcom about a “blended” family reflected reality, the Brady Bunch likely would have been dealing with much ...

Recommended for you

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

44 minutes ago

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.