Children Safest in Intact Families
Special Report - May 3, 2011
Children living with their married father and mother are significantly safer from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse than children living with single or cohabiting parents, according to the latest data on child abuse and neglect from the federal government. The federal study, the “Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NCIS-4) Report to Congress,” is a “congressionally mandated, periodic research effort to assess the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the United States.” The last NCIS report (NCIS-3) was released in 1996.
According to the most recent installment of the study (NCIS-4), which examined national child maltreatment data for 2004 to 2009, “Children living with their married biological parents universally had the lowest rate [of maltreatment], whereas those living with a single parent who had a cohabiting partner in the household had the highest rate in all maltreatment categories.” Specifically, the study found that children living with cohabiting parents (specifically, a single parent and a live-in partner) were eight times more likely to suffer any form of maltreatment, 10 times more likely to suffer abuse, and nearly eight times more likely to suffer from neglect, than children living with their married, biological parents.
The NCIS-4 study also found that children living with both biological parents who are cohabiting, but who are not married, are also significantly more likely to suffer some form of abuse or neglect than children living with their married biological parents. For example, children living with cohabiting biological parents are four times more likely to be physically, emotionally or sexually abused, and three times more likely to be physically, emotionally or educationally neglected, than children living with their married biological parents. University of Virginia professor and executive director of the National Marriage Project, W. Bradford Wilcox summed up these findings by noting, “In other words, a child is not much safer when she is living in a home with her parents if her parents’ relationship does not enjoy the legal, social, and moral status and guidance that marriage confers on relationships.”
In his recent analysis of the federal study published in the online journal, Public Discourse, Professor Wilcox wrote, “This latest study confirms what a mounting body of social science has been telling us for some time now. The science tells us that children are not only more likely to thrive but are also more likely to simply survive when they are raised in an intact home headed by their married parents, rather than in a home headed by a cohabiting couple.” Professor Wilcox shows in his analysis that the latest federal study on child abuse confirms the findings of previous studies showing the link between the absence of an intact family and a greater likelihood of child abuse and neglect. He points to previous studies showing a greater likelihood of fatal child abuse (death), emotional problems, and adolescent drug use by children raised in cohabiting households, compared to children raised in intact families.
Professor Wilcox previously wrote about the issue of family structure and child abuse in a 2008 research brief for the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, entitled, “Protectors or Perpetrators: Fathers, Mothers and Child Abuse and Neglect.” The research brief, which he co-authored with UVA Research Associate, Jeffery Dew, focused on the important role that biological fathers play in protecting their children from abuse and neglect. “Children in father-present homes are on average safer because they are more likely to benefit financially from their fathers’ providership, their mothers are more likely to enjoy the social and emotional support of a coparent, and their biological or adoptive fathers are less likely than stepfathers or other unrelated males to physically or sexually abuse them,” Wilcox wrote. “In short, children are safest when they live in a married home with a biological or adoptive father who is committed to their welfare and to the welfare of their mother.”
Census Report Examines Cohabitation - November 9, 2010
Marriage Beats Cohabitation- March 5, 2010
Characteristics of Cohabiting Adults Studied - July 16, 2009
Report Analyzes Cohabitation Effects - June 23, 2008
How Cohabitation Undermines Marriage and the Family - Findings - June 2005
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