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Children of Single Parents Have Poorer Physical Health

Update Date: Oct 11, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

The two-parent household has always been the norm when it comes to how families should look. Even though this image is still the most common one, different types of families have become more normal over time. For example, single parents who never get married or are divorced are more common now than ever before. Due to increased rate of single parents, researchers have been studying the effects of this type of family on children. In a new study, researchers reported that children of single parents report poorer physical health than children from two-parent households.

In this study, Cornell demographers examined the data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. This survey included data from mothers and their children, who were a nationally representative group of people between the ages of 14 and 22 at the start of the study. From this data set, the researchers compared 704 children that had single mothers to 1,299 children born to married mothers. The researchers focused on physical and mental health. Single mothers included those that never married, got divorced or cohabited with a new partner.

The researchers reported that the teenagers who had mothers who were never married after they gave birth had comparable health to teenagers born to mothers who were divorced from the children's biological fathers and moved on to either cohabit or marry new partners. The researchers noted that in rare situations, when mothers married the teenagers' biological fathers, the children's health improved.

"We find that marriage is no panacea for single mothers," the co-author of the study, Sharon Sassler said according to Medical Xpress. Sassler is a professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology. "When mothers marry the biological father of their child and stay married to him, children have better health, but the association is modest. But relatively few mothers fit in this category."

Sassler added, "We are seeing health disadvantages in adolescents 14 or more years after their birth to a never-married mother. These appear to be associated with cumulative stressors on the mother from having a nonmarital birth, stressors that apparently also take a toll on children themselves over a long period. That suggests that interventions earlier in childhood and focused on ensuring health coverage and regular health visits for children born in less advantaged circumstances are important."

The study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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