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Health & Parenting

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Nontraditional Families: How Kids Fare

Kids in Non-Traditional Two-Parent Families Not Shortchanged on Parental Involvement, Researches Say
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 7, 2008 -- Children in nontraditional two-parent families -- such as stepfamilies or when the biological mother is living with a boyfriend -- get roughly the same amount of parental involvement as children living with both biological parents in a so-called traditional family, according to research presented at a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association.

This finding bodes well for the many children in the United States living in nontraditional families, according to study author Hiromi Ono, PhD, who cites previous research that links low parental involvement to behavior problems in children. Ono is associate professor of sociology at Washington State University.

“Children have no control over their family situation, so it’s encouraging to find that the amount of quality time that they have with their parents is largely unaffected by their family arrangement,” Ono, an associate professor of sociology at Washington State University, said in a written statement.

Children have the same amount of time with their biological mothers, regardless of the type of father figure in the household, according to the study. Children spend about five hours more per week with their mothers than with the male parental figure, whether he is the biological father or not. The study included about 1,500 children aged 6-12 (average age 9) living with their biological mothers, who were either married or cohabiting.

Ono, who does not look at single parents in the study, reports no significant difference in time spent with remarried biological fathers, cohabiting biological fathers, or cohabiting stepfathers compared to first-married biological fathers. There was some variation among other father figure types. A remarried stepfather tends to spend less time with the child than a first-married biological father. However, when the mother is living with a partner but not married to him, that man spends the same amount of time with the children as the biological father in a traditional family.

Ono analyzed households with children between 6 and 12 years old living with their biological mothers. The study uses children’s time diary data from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from 1997 to 2003. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics is a nationally representative study of economic, social, and demographic factors among nearly 8,000 families in the United States.

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