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Children of married parents less likely to be anti-social: British government report

“Students in lone parent families showed small but statistically significant increases in both negative behaviors and decreases in both positive behaviors,” the report found.
Thu Sep 18, 2014 - 4:26 pm EST
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A British study has found that children raised by married parents have more confidence, are more conscientious, and are better behaved than their peers.

Starting in 1997, approximately 3,000 children between the ages of three and 16 were examined for the impact of several factors – including their family's income, social class, and marital status of parents – on grades and behavior.

The study's results, which were originally reported by The Independent, show that the marital status of parents was a critical factor in children being more confident, responsible, and less anti-social.

"The marital status of parents in the early years, when children were first recruited to the study, was also a significant predictor of changes in self-regulation during secondary education and pro-social behavior," the study says.

“Students in lone parent families showed small but statistically significant increases in both negative behaviors and decreases in both positive behaviors,” the report continued. “In addition, students of parents who were living with their partner but unmarried in the early years were found to show small decreases in self-regulation and pro-social behavior and an increase in hyperactivity."

The study concluded that by age 16, some 11 years into the study, that "there are weaker effects linked to parents’ marital status, although there is a tendency for poorer self-regulation and pro-social behavior and increased hyperactivity and anti-social behavior for those from single parent families."

The longitudinal study, funded by the British government, also found that parents' marital status, social class, and wealth all affect the way children develop from toddlers into young adults.

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Socioeconomic status, the education level of parents, and preschool education also played roles.

Mainstream media sources have acknowledged the importance of marriage in the study's results.

The results of the study, which were funded by the United Kingdom's Department for Education, appear to differ from a study published on the Centre for Longitudinal Studies' site in 2011. That study, conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, found "that while there are differences between the cognitive development of children whose parents are married and those whose parents are cohabitating, the statistical significance of the gap disappears when controlling for parents’ education, occupation, income and housing tenure."

Britain has the fourth-highest rate of single parents in the European Union, behind Estonia, Latvia, and Ireland, according to the think tank Policy Exchange. The Office for National Statistics reported that in 2011 that "In 1971, 92 percent of families with dependent children were headed by a married or cohabiting couple, by 2011 this had fallen to 78 percent of families. Over the same period the proportion of one-parent families tripled, from eight percent in 1971 to 22 percent in 2011."

These statistics have changed little since 1998, according to the government report. 


  childhood, marriage, uk