African schoolroom

The quality of schooling also counts…

Back to the World Family Map inaugural report. (By the way, for those too busy to look them up, I have added the answers to the quiz in the previous post on regional family structure trends.) The report includes an essay which shows a clear advantage to children from living in two-parent families — but mainly in higher income countries, not low. Why the difference?

Here’s a summary by the authors:

Finally, the report’s main essay—Two, One or No Parents? Children’s Living Arrangements and Educational Outcomes Around the World—presents strong evidence that children living in two-parent families in middle- and high-income countries are more likely to stay on track in school and demonstrate higher reading literacy than are children living with one or no parents. In these high- and middle-income countries, the additional financial, social, and cultural capital that two parents can provide to their children appears to give them an educational advantage over their peers from single-parent homes and those who do not live with either of their parents.

However, this family structure advantage is not found in many low-income countries (mostly in the southern hemisphere). In these countries, children in one-parent households often do about as well as or sometimes even better than children in two-parent households on indicators such as secondary school enrolment and being the right age for their grade. There are several reasons why children in single-parent households in poorer countries may be performing well academically.

The family may receive social and financial support from extended kin or the resident parent may draw on the financial resources of the non-resident parent who is working as a migrant worker away from home. It is also possible that children may benefit from living with single mothers if these mothers invest in their children’s education more heavily than do fathers and if single mothers have more control over the resources and decision-making that support children’s education.

In many low-income countries, family structure simply may not matter as much for children’s education, given the many obstacles to good educational outcomes that affect children in all types of families. Parents may not be able to afford schooling for their children; schools and teachers may be inadequate; parents and their children may suffer from poor health and nutrition; seasonal labor demands may take priority; and attitudes toward school may militate against achievement.

Sadly, more and more children in the rich world are being deprived of the advantages of growing up with one’s own married parents, because of non-marriage and family instability. The authors  conclude on an ironic note:

Ironically, perhaps, low-income countries may provide insight about how to strengthen families in a climate of instability, both socially and economically, insofar as those countries rely on extended kin to buffer children from the effects of single parenthood or orphanhood.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet