Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Do family characteristics affect children's health?

This blog, written by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda Deleuze, provides an overview of the latest World Family Map 2014. The report takes a look at family characteristics across the globe to see if they affect children's health. The post is a part of Wikiprogress' Series on Health.

The World Family Map Project measures and monitors global changes in the family. Last month, the World Family Map 2014 was released and it sure has a lot going on! This second annual edition provides 1) updates on the project’s 16 indicators, 2) an essay on union stability and child health in developing countries, as well as 3) a short analysis of psychological distress among 9 to 16 year olds in the European Union (EU). This blog will provide an overview of the report’s three sections, sharing a few of the findings. 

The Countries included in the World Family Map 2014

The Data Updates, part 1

The first section, representing a bulk of the report, offers an inside view of families within 49 countries. The report presents a description of the data trends, showing regional and country differences, as well as colourful tables and maps for almost every indicator. The report pulls data from a multitude of sources: country-level sources; DHS; FAO; Integrated Public Use Microdata Series-International (IPMUS); LIS; OECD; PISA; UNICEF Innocenti Research Center; World Value Surveys. The blending of these surveys produces 16 indicators divided into 4 domains: family structure; family socioeconomics; family processes; family culture.

The “family structure” dimension includes data regarding living arrangements, marriage and cohabitation rates, fertility rates, and non-marital childbearing rates. Living arrangements is separated into 2-parent households, single-parent households, neither-parent households, and households with extended family members.

The “family socioeconomics” dimension includes poverty, undernourishment, parental education level, parental employment rates, and public family benefits. Poverty measures include both absolute and relative child poverty rates.

The “family processes” dimension includes adult satisfaction with family life, disagreement over household work, teen’s discussion with parents, and family meals around the table with 15 year-olds. Teen’s discussion with parents includes communication frequency measures as well as whether the conversation is about how well the 15 year old is doing in school or about non-school related topics.

Finally, the “family culture” dimension includes measures regarding attitudes toward voluntary single motherhood, attitudes about whether children need both a mother and father, amount of support for working mothers, and family trust.

The Essay, part 2

The report also contains an essay which explores the relationship between family instability and children’s health in developing countries. There are 27 countries observed in Central/South America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, using data from the Demographic Health Surveys (DHS). Family instability is measured here by divorce or dissolution of a cohabiting partnership, widowhood, or re-partnership (i.e. re-marriage; cohabitation) during the child’s lifetime. The essay looks into 3 child health measures with varying degrees of severity: diarrhea (acute illness); stunting (longer-term); child mortality (most severe outcome). 

Children of Mothers Who Divorced, Dissolved a Cohabiting Union, and/or Re-partnered More Likely to Have Died in Three Out of Four Regions

The essay suggest that family instability compromises parents’ ability to provide the kind of consistent and attentive care that is most likely to foster good health in children. The essay hypothesizes that union instability may affect children’s health due to additional time and attention consumption, more stress, a disruption of social support networks, and reduction of socioeconomic resources available to parents. The results show that in a number of low-income regions divorce or partnership dissolution and re-partnering are associated with increased negative conditions for all three child health measures. The overall findings suggest that union instability is associated with worse child health outcomes; however, the findings are stronger for diarrhea and death than for stunted growth.

The Analysis, part 3

The third and final section of the report contains an analysis of the 2010 EU Kids Online Survey to determine whether there are links between family structure across Europe and children’s psychological health and if there are variations among countries. The survey contains findings for 1,000 children who use the internet aged 9-16 in each of the 25 EU countries observed. Psychological health is defined as emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems, and pro-social behaviour (or voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another).

Odds of Elevated Psychological Difficulties in Sole-Parent Families Relative to Two-Parent Families

The results suggest that in the EU as a whole, children’s living arrangements are related to their psychological well-being. Children from more educated households report fewer psychological difficulties, but household socioeconomic status has the opposite effect, with higher status being associated with more difficulties. 
Overall, the World Family Map 2014 brings a good deal of interesting analysis and provides more insight to important questions facing countries all over the world. I am looking forward to see what new understandings next year’s edition brings.

-Melinda Deleuze

See Also:
The OECD Family Database
Child Family and Peer Relationships

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