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Family make-up –whether raised in a two-parent or a single parent environment — is also linked to behavioral problems

A new sociology study from John Hopkins University [Maryland] confirms what pro-family groups have been saying for decades – family instability has a direct correlation to bad behavior in children.

According to a Hopkins press release about the new study, “children who go through frequent transitions are more likely to have behavioral problems than children raised in stable two-parent families and maybe even more than those in stable single-parent families.”

Entitled “Family Instability and Child Well-Being”, the study was authored by Hopkins sociologists Paula Fomby and Andrew Cherlin and will be published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

The data used for the Fomby and Cherlin paper was gathered from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data which is comprised of a 21-year project focusing on women and their children.

The children studied in the test were between 5 and 14 years old in 2000. Data researchers utilized a cognitive achievement test, a mother-reported log of behavioral problems and, in the older age group of 10 to 14 years, a self-reported log of behavioral problems.

Fomby and Cherlin took the NLSY data and correspondently applied the number of marital and co-habitational alterations the children had respectively undergone.

Using a scoring process similar to that used for a standard IQ test, the study authors determined that a child who endured three family living alterations would be likely to have a behavioral problem score approximately 6 points higher than a child who had experienced no such alterations.

Multiple family transitions were also directly linked with more frequent instances of juvenile delinquency such as vandalism, theft and truancy.

The research indicated that white children are more negatively impacted in both behavioral issues and academic achievement by family instability than black children.

The authors suggested that black children possibly weather the emotional storm better due to the fact that they typically have more immediate family nearby for emotional support.

The researchers cautioned that their sample data may have also affected the racial disparity found in the study since the women involved were between the ages of 21 and 39 years old at the time of the birth of their child.

Black women frequently have children at younger ages than white women and thus would not have fallen within the age guidelines established.

In both black and white children, the study indicated a consistent correlation between living in a ‘mother only’ household during the first years of life and mother-reported behavior problems.

White children living under the same circumstances also experienced lower reading skills than white children raised in a two-parent home.

Fomby concluded, “Family instability does appear to have a causal role in determining whether white children exhibit more behavior problems. But for both white and black children, other dimensions of family structure, like being born to a single parent or living with a step-parent, also have persistent effects.

“Instability isn’t the whole story, but looking at change tells us more about what explains children’s behavioral development than what we would see by looking at a cross-section.”

[2April07, Meg Jalsevac, BALTIMORE,]