Instability and Complexity in American Families

Today’s families are changing, as we’ve discussed here and here. Our School of Family Life professors are studying more and more types of families with more and more complex relationships. At our college‘s 2017 Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Kathryn Edin addressed the impact of instability and complexity on many American families. As parents break up, then re-partner, then bring new children into the family dynamic, Dr. Edin explained that “the parental roster is unstable” and “the child has multiple adults in and out of his or her life, claiming the role of mom or dad.” This dynamic is both a consequence and a cause of poverty.

Learn more about instability and complexity by watching this two-minute video, and stay tuned for new videos as we continue to explore these issues.

Dr. Edin’s full lecture is available here.

This post is thirty-fourth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

Research Shows That People Who Get Divorced or Are Widowed Have the Worst Health

This post is eighteenth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

Research, as we’ve mentioned here and here, shows consistently that people who are married have better health. It follows, then, that divorce or widowhood can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. Dr. Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and a 2010 Hinckley presenter at BYU, found that people who were married and stayed married to the same person had consistently better health than those who had remarried after a divorce or loss of a spouse, had been divorced or widowed and not remarried, and those who had never married. Interestingly, in terms of physical health, those in the second group who had been divorced or widowed and not remarried reported the worst physical health, those who had never married reported only 12% fewer negative health events, and those who had remarried after divorce or widowhood reported 27% fewer negative health events than the divorced or widowed. Still, that last group suffered 21% more incidences than the “always married.”

 

The previously married also reported worst emotional health, with those who had never married not far behind.

 

The short video below highlights the results of her research, shared in a 2010 Hinckley lecture by Waite. The full video can be viewed here.

 

 

 

What are the Health Advantages of Marriage?

This post is seventeenth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.


Want to know how to be healthier? Get married! University of Chicago professor Dr. Linda Waite studied marriage and its effects on people and found that the institution improves the health of those in it. She said, in a 2010 Hinckley lecture, that it gave men confidants and purposes in life beyond themselves. Statistically speaking, she said, they also:

  • Sleep better
  • Eat better
  • Drink less
  • Smoke less

Women get different things out of marriage, namely financial stability. Because women can generally depend more on men to provide for them financially, they are able to spend more time with the children. Women who are married with kids generally spend less time working than they did when they did not have kids.

“It’s extremely important that marriage produces social connections,” Waite added. “It connects people to an intimate other and that’s probably the most important single connection and can’t really be overrated.”

The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Chair was created to strengthen, understand, and research families as well as create strategies to bolster families through challenges such as learning disabilities, social development, and single parenting.

Research Says that Marriage Makes You Live Longer

This post is sixteenth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

What’s the secret to living longer? According to Dr. Linda Waite, it’s marriage. In a 2010 Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture, Waite shared her research showing this. She studied 100 American couples over eighteen years, charting their marriages, divorces and, deaths. She found that women who were married lived longer than women who never married, were divorced, or widowed: “Marriage keeps women alive,” she said, and the same was true for men, to an even greater extent, all else being equal. “When you look at the most basic, most fundamental health indicator,” she said, “it’s very clear that married people are advantaged.”

Dr. Waite graduated with a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Michigan in 1976. She is the Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Psychology at the University of Chicago.. She researches social demography, aging, the family, health, working families, and the link between biology, psychology, and the social world. The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Chair, which sponsored Waite’s lecture, was created to strengthen, understand, and research families as well as create strategies to bolster families through challenges such as learning disabilities, “social development,” and single parenting.

Dr. Edin defines family instability and complexity

Part 1: The Problem

“By the time a child of unwed parents turns five, 23 percent of them have 3 half siblings,” said Dr. Kathryn Edin at our most recent Hinckley lecture. Edin’s decades-long ethnographic research about low-income families revealed that:

  • 78% of families are unstable and complex
  • 18% are stable two-parent families
  • 4% are stable single mother families

Family or relationship instability refers to the forming, breaking, reforming, breaking cycle of family life. This cycle of parents not staying together leaves the child with many parental figures who enter and leave their life, often while the child is very young. “In the first five years of a child who belongs to unmarried parents,” she said, “twelve percent of these children see one parent transition; 30 percent of children see three or more parent transitions in the first five years of their life.”

“Family instability and complexity,” she said, “are both consequences and causes of poverty. It is more common among low-income families. And they are at an all time high.”

These causes and consequences are parts of a difficult and complex societal issue, but her research provides both illumination for every member of society wondering how to help, and suggestions for improvement at the public policy level. That research began decades ago when she began roaming the country in her 20’s interviewing poor single mothers about their budgets. In her 30’s, she sought to get a more complete picture by focusing on the stories and laments of single fathers.

A major cause of family complexity and instability in poverty: unplanned pregnancy

captureNow as a distinguished sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, she investigates low-income and middle class family planning styles. These observations have proven crucial to discovering how to lessen family instability and complexity.

She found that those in low-income families often had unplanned or ill-timed pregnancies in non-committal relationships. Children tended to come along when the parents were still trying to “find themselves.”

In contrast, middle-class families meticulously planned and timed births. Parents were in a stable and committed relationship, often marriage. Parents had children when they both had “arrived” in a career-sense—they were confident with who they were and they felt fulfilled. Children who were born into families like the second scenario had a better upbringing in a more stable family.

The key lesson Edin learned in her 30s: “Moving the needle on mobility from poverty must include the family contexts into which children are born and raised. This is not a popular opinion, but I became convinced this was essential.”

With all of this in mind, Edin asked: “What would it take to ensure that every child can be planned and well-timed?” The answer? SPARKS (Supported Pathways through the Arts, Recreation, Knowledge, and Schools). Children and teens who have a SPARK identify themselves outside of their hard home life—they find themselves. They make better family decisions.

Stay tuned to fhss.byu.edu for more posts about how to help low-income families become more stable as we provide further coverage of the Hinckley lecture and explanation of SPARKS.

You can view the whole lecture here: