two biological parents
that seems to supportchildren’s development.Of course, the quality of a marriage also affectschildren. Specifically, children benefit from alow-conflict marriage. Children who grow up inan intact but high-conflict marriage have worseemotional well-being than children whose par-ents are in a low-conflict marriage.
Indeed,domestic violence can be very destructive tochildren’s development.
Although research is limited, when researchershave compared marriage to cohabitation, theyhave found that marriage is associated with bet-ter outcomes for children. One reason is thatcohabiting unions are generally more fragilethan marriage. This fragility means that chil-dren born to unmarried, cohabiting parents arelikely to experience instability in their living arrangements, and research shows that multiplechanges in family structure or living arrange-ments
can undermine children’s development.
Thus research clearly finds that different familystructures can increase or decrease children’srisk of poor outcomes, for a variety of reasons.For example, families are more likely to be pooror low-income if they are headed by a single par-ent. Beyond this heightened risk of economicdeprivation, the children in these families havepoorer relationships with their parents, particu-larly with their biological father, and receivelower levels of parental supervision and monitor-ing.
In addition, the conflict surrounding thedemise and breakup of a marriage or relationshipcan be harmful to children.
Trends in Family Structureand Children’s Living Arrangements
Given these consequences for children, it is asource of concern that an increasing percentageof children have been growing up with just oneparent over recent decades. This circumstancehas occurred for a variety of reasons, including rising rates of divorce, nonmarital childbearing,and cohabitation.
Rising divorce rates accounted for theinitial increase in single parenthood dur-ing the latter half of the twentieth century.
Single-parent families formed by widowhoodwere the initial impetus for providing welfareand Social Security benefits for children in the1930s. In the 1970s, however, divorce began tosupplant widowhood as the primary cause of sin-gle-parent families.
Divorce rates continuedto increase into the 1970s and early 1980s, beforestabilizing and then declining in the late 1980sand 1990s.
Births to unmarried women increasedsteadily during the post-war decades,accelerating in the 1980s.
This trend alsocontributed to an increase in single parenthood.Over the last 40 years, an historic shift occurredin the percentage of children living with a parentwho has never married. In the early 1960s, lessthan 1 percent of children lived with a parentwho had never married. By 2000, nearly one inten children lived with a never-married parent.
In addition, today nearly one-third of all birthsoccur to unmarried women (including never-married, divorced, and widowed women),accounting for more than a million birthsannually.
Contrary to popular perceptions, teenagersaccount for less than three in ten nonmaritalbirths, with women in their twenties accounting for more than half.
Moreover, nonmaritalbirths are not all first births. Only about half of all nonmarital births in 1998 were first births,
and more than one-third of unmarried mothersalready have children by an earlier partner.
Recent data indicate that the nonmarital birthrate stabilized during the late 1990s. While thisdevelopment has been hailed as good news, acloser examination of the data reveals a morecomplex picture. The overall decline in the non-marital birth rate has been driven by declining