On kidsdata.org, measures of family structure include: households with and without children under age 18; family structure for children, overall, and by race/ethnicity; and children in the care of grandparents.
These data are estimates based on the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS). Depending on the indicator, data may be available for:
- Cities, school districts and counties with 65,000+ residents, as single-year estimates;
- Cities, school districts, and counties with 20,000+ residents, as 3-year estimates;
- Cities, school districts, and counties with 10,000+ residents, as 5-year estimates (however, for family structure by race/ethnicity, data are provided as 5-year estimates for regions of 50,000+ residents); and/or
- Legislative districts, as 5-year estimates.
Family structure estimates are for children living in households and exclude those in group quarters (e.g., student dormitories). A "female-headed household” is a household maintained by a female with related children present. The female head of household typically is the children’s mother but also may be their grandmother, aunt, older sibling, or another relative. The definition of "male-headed household" is comparable. The same-sex couple category combines both unmarried and married partners due to small sample sizes. "Other households” include youth living alone or with nonrelatives.
Child well being is influenced by the family environment and the presence of caring, stable adults. Family structure and the nature of the family relationships, in particular, are important factors in child development (1, 2). For example, single-parent families are more likely than two-parent families to have lower incomes and experience financial hardship (3). Financial hardship can affect families’ ability to provide the environment and experiences a child needs for optimal cognitive, emotional, and physical development (4, 5). In addition to adequate family income, positive child development is influenced by factors such as parental affection, responsiveness, and consistency, as well as high quality relationships between parents or significant adults (2). These factors are more critical than the family structure itself (6).
Over the past 30 years, the percentage of children living in households with two married parents has declined nationwide, while the percentage in families headed by a single parent or grandparents has increased (7, 8). Though it is not clear if the percentage of children living with same-sex partners has increased in recent decades (due to data limitations), research shows that children in these families are as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents (2). Studies indicate that child development is not influenced by the gender or sexual orientation of parents.
For more information about family structure see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. ChildTrends. (2012). Family structure. Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=family-structure
2. Lamb, M. E. (2012). Mothers, fathers, families, and circumstances: Factors affecting children’s adjustment. Applied Developmental Science, 16(2), 98-111.
3. Coontz, et al. (2002). Marriage, poverty, and public policy: A discussion paper from the Council on Contemporary Families. Prepared for the Fifth Annual CCF Conference. Retrieved from: http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/economic-issues/povertypolicy.html
4. National Center for Children in Poverty. (2009). Ten important questions about children and economic hardship. Retrieved from: http://www.nccp.org/faq.html
5. Mosle, A, Emig, C., & Redd, Z. (2011). Two generations in poverty: Status and trends among parents and children in the United States, 2000-2010 (Child Trends Research Brief No. 2011-25). Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?publications=two-generations-in-poverty-status-and-trends-among-parents-and-children-in-the-united-states-2000-2010-2
6. Schor, E. (2003). Family Pediatrics: Report of the Task Force on the Family. Pediatrics, 111(6), Part 2:1539-158. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/Supplement_2/1541.abstract
7. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2011). Family structure and children’s living arrangements. America’s Children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/famsoc.asp
8. U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). Family table CH-7. Grandchildren living in the home of their grandparents: 1970 to present. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html
While the family provides the essential safety net for children, public policy can reinforce that safety net when families are less secure or stable. Research shows that single-parent households tend to be less financially secure or stable than those with two married parents (1). In California, about two-thirds of households with children are headed by married couples (2). Kinship caregivers, such as grandparents, often need information, financial and emotional support, and authority to nurture, feed, house, and educate the children in their care (3). California’s non-traditional families also include same-sex couples with children. While research shows that these children do as well as children of heterosexual couples, they can face discrimination (4).
According to research and subject experts, policy options that could promote child well being in homes with a single parent, kinship caregiver, or same-sex parents include:
- Developing and implementing responsible fatherhood programs that are comprehensive and address child support collection issues, paternal employment, relationship skills, parenting skills, and domestic violence concerns (1, 5, 6)
- Strengthening the social and financial safety net for single custodial parents through policies that support balancing work and caring for children, provide adequate cash assistance for low-income families in need, and effectively enforce child support obligations (1, 7, 8)
- Ensuring that kinship caregivers have the full range of support needed to provide for children in their care, enroll them in school, ensure they receive regular medical care, and avoid placement in non-relative foster care (3)
- Eliminating legislation that discriminates against gay and lesbian populations, as the presence of anti-gay legislation and attitudes can negatively affect the mental health of gay and lesbian parents, which can affect the emotional and behavioral health of their children (4, 9, 10, 11)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, or visit the Fragile Families Well-Being Study, California Kinship or COLAGE.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Waldfogel, et al. (2010). Fragile families and child well-being. Future of Children, Princeton University and Brookings Institution. Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/20_02_05.pdf
2. As cited on kidsdata.org, U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. (2011). Family structure for children in households. Retrieved from: http://www.kidsdata.org/data/topic/table/families-with-children-type250.aspx
3. Conway, et al. (2007). Is kinship care good for kids? Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications/files/0347.pdf
4. Lamb, M. E. (2012). Mothers, fathers, families, and circumstances: Factors affecting children’s adjustment. Applied Developmental Science, 16(2), 98-111
5. Paige, R. U. (2005). APA Policy Statement: Sexual Orientation, Parents, & Children. Proceedings of the American Psychological
Association. Minutes of the
meeting of the Council of Representatives, July 2004,
Honolulu, HI. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/parenting.aspx
6. Hansell, D. (2010). Testimony on responsible fatherhood programs. Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/2010/06/t20100617a.html
7. Knox, et al. (2009). Policies that strengthen fatherhood and family relationships: What do we know and what do we need to know? MDRC. Retrieved from: http://www.mdrc.org/publications/556/full.pdf
8. McLanahan, et al. (2010). Strengthening fragile families. Future of Children, Princeton University and Brookings Institution. Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/20_02_PolicyBrief.pdf
9. Cancian, et al. (2010). Promising antipoverty strategies for families. Urban Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/412073_promising_antipoverty.pdf
10. Goldberg, et al. (2011). Stigma, social context, and mental health: Lesbian and gay couples across the transition to adoptive parenthood. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(1), 139-150. Retrieved from: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cou/58/1/139/
11. Pilowsky, et al. (2006). Family discord, parental depression, and psychopathology in offspring: 20-year follow-up. Journal of the American Academy on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(4), 452-460. Retrieved from: http://www.jaacap.com/article/S0890-8567%2809%2962065-7/abstract
12. American Academy on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2008). Children of parents with mental illness. Retrieved from: http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_of_parents_with_mental_illness
In 2011, more than one-third of California households (37%) included children, similar to previous years. Among counties with 20,000 residents or more, Imperial, Kings, and Tulare had the highest percentages of households with children (48%), and San Francisco had the lowest (19%) in 2009-11.
About two-thirds (67%) of California children lived in households headed by married couples of the opposite sex in 2011; the remaining percentage lived in households headed by single women (19%), single men (5%), unmarried couples of the opposite sex (8%), and married or unmarried same-sex couples (0.3%). In addition, about 4% of California’s children lived in the care of grandparents in 2011. Family structure varies by race/ethnicity. In 2007-11, an estimated 11% of Asian/Pacific Islander children in California lived in households headed by single women, while the same was true for about 50% of African American children.