Children’s Happiness, Single Parent Families, and Peers


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Happy kids come from all types of families. Photo by vihiju.

Single parent households may have been given a bad rap, at least as far as their effect on children’s happiness is concerned.  New research from Great Britain found in that nation, children in single parent households are as happy as those in two-parent households.

Other factors do impact the happiness of minors, including relationships with siblings and  peers and which part of Great Britain the children call home. Some factors, like the health of the children and parents, have surprisingly little effect.

The Research: Use of Large Data-sets

Dr. Sally McMannus and colleagues, funded by the Department of Health, examined three sets of data to determine levels of wellbeing across the lifespan: the Millennium Cohort Study, Understanding Society, and the  Health Survey for England.  Larger sample sizes protect against unreliable findings.

Researchers compared the answers of children on a variety of measures using a statistics to determine what did and did not correlate with children’s happiness.

Single Parent Study Findings: Family Structure

In a comparison of family types, two parent natural/adoptive, two-parent step-parent/natural, and single parent homes all had children with equal levels of happiness. This finding occurs after controlling for other factors such as socioeconomic status.

But children who were classified being in an  “other” family type were markedly less happy.   Dr. Sally McMannus explained in her interview with Decoded Science, “This small group is likely to be very heterogeneous.”  The nature of these diverse family structures, where a parent is no longer involved, implies great loss or disruption such as parents having died, been incarcerated, or some other unusual and disruptive circumstance.

Families, Health, and Happiness

Counter-intuitively, neither the health of the parents nor the health of the child impacted happiness.  Dr. McMannus explained that other factors might be at play, “It is also plausible that where parents do have a limiting condition they may be more likely not to be working, and therefore around more. Therefore drawbacks may be countered by the benefit this could have for some young children.

Importance of Good Peer Relationships

Getting along with siblings and having multiple friends was associated with happiness – as was not being bullied.  Dr. McMannus explained that in Great Britain, as in parts of the United States, such as Massachusetts, schools teach social skills.  She notes, “‘Citizenship’ classes include a focus on this, our data suggests that anything that encourages respect for and engagement with others is a good objective in and of itself, as well as being likely to benefit the wellbeing of all!

Irish Kids are Happiest

Human geography or cultural elements appear to play a role in children’s well-being.  Irish children were found to be happier than their English, Welsh and Scottish counterparts.  This same finding was repeated in analysis of adults. Dr. McMannus admits, “We can’s say for sure why it is.

Recommendations for Happy Kids

Wellbeing not only feels good, “a high level of wellbeing a positive end in itself, it has also been found to predict living longer and living without disability,” according to the report’s authors.  Learning how to grow happy children prevents not only misery, but save society money in lost work and in disability claims.

Based on the research, the most important finding, according to Dr. McMannus is that parents appear to be able to raise the happiness levels of their children by spending more time with them.  As Dr. McMannus states, “Parents-Make time to have fun with your kids at the weekends, it really does matter.

Spending time with children matters, no matter if the parent is a single parent, step-parent, natural, or adoptive parent.

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