Children Do Better When Raised in Intact, Two-Parent Homes

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A new research brief from the Institute for Families Studies (IFS) suggests that, judging by several key metrics, children are better off when they grow up in an intact, two-parent family as compared to those raised in single-parent home or in stepfamilies.

The central takeaway from the paper is that children raised by their biological parents are significantly more likely than children in other family structures to avoid poverty and prison, as well as to graduate from college — and those benefits are evident across racial lines.

The authors surveyed data on child poverty, college graduation rates, and incarceration rates as associated with the three most prevalent households structures: a home headed by two biological parents, a home headed by a single parent, and a stepfamily with one biological parent and one non-biological parent.

The authors note that some scholars in recent years have questioned the consensus view that children do better in two-parent, intact homes. Meanwhile, some scholarship has claimed that “living apart from a biological parent does not carry the same cost for black youths as for their white peers” and that black children are less affected by family structure.

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But according to their research, the IFS scholars note that there are tangible benefits to both white and black children from being raised in an intact, two-parent home. They found, for instance, that black young adults raised by their biological mother and father are more likely to graduate from college and less likely to be incarcerated than black young adults from non-intact homes. Meanwhile, black children and young adults raised in intact, two-parent families are more likely to be successful by each metric than their white peers raised in single-parent homes.

The data do show that, within each type of family structure, white children and young adults maintain an advantage over their black counterparts. For instance, 47 percent of white children who grew up with their biological parents graduated from college compared with just 28 percent of black children raised in an intact, two-parent home.

Even so, the findings reinforce what scholarship has tended to find for decades: that children by and large are more successful when raised by their biological parents, and those advantages exist across racial lines.

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