Photo by knittymarie used with Creative Commons License.
Recent trends in the United States have seen greater numbers of children experiencing family structural transitions or living in alternative family structures. Researchers are interested in learning how these trends can impact children’s academic growth. In a new study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers from Ohio State University and Walter Reed Medical Center examined data from 8,000 children from three categories of conventional families and three categories of alternative families, and tracked their academic growth from kindergarten to fifth grade. The results of the study are important because they compare academic growth based on three different variables: family structure, family transition, and financial resources. Previous research in this area has not combined these variables to assess their joint impact on children’s educational trajectories.
The results of the study include a number of interesting findings. First, children in conventional two biological parent households and children in non-disrupted stepfamilies did better academically than children in non-disrupted single parent households and children in disrupted two biological parent households. Also, children in stable single parent families had better academic growth than children in unstable alternative family structures. The study findings also highlight the role of finances and access to resources in determining a child’s academic growth. Income and parental education when a child started kindergarten had a significant, positive relationship with children’s outcomes in math. Also, although children in alternative or disrupted families had slower academic growth, this could be partially or completely attributed to family finances and resources at the start of kindergarten. Finally, if family finances were controlled for then there was almost no difference in academic outcomes between children in non-disrupted conventional families and children in non-disrupted alternative families.
Several Schubert Center Faculty Associates are involved in research on family influences on child development. Amy Przeworski examines how family disruptions and interactions can affect childhood anxiety. Gerald Mahoney studies family and parental influences on children’s social and emotional well-being. James Spilsbury studies how the social and physical features of a home can affect the health of children who have been exposed to domestic violence.