A new study by Christina J. Cross, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University who will join the sociology department faculty at the university next year, has shown that children raised by both biological parents fare better academically than children raised in any other family structure. However, her research found that living apart from a biological parent is less negatively consequential for racial/ethnic minority children than for White children.
Dr. Cross conducted research on a nationally representative sample of about 2,600 children’s living arrangements, their access to economic resources, and their interactions with extended relatives through the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. She found that Black children have a stronger extended family support network than children in White families. She also found that Black children are more frequently exposed to socioeconomic stressors such that the independent effect of living apart from a parent is just not as pronounced. The latter reason was found to be a more important factor.
In short, Black kids face significant obstacles to educational success including poverty, discrimination, racial segregation, etc. The fact that they are more likely to live in a single-parent home than White children does not matter as much as the other obstacles they face. For White children who are less likely to have economic and social stress than Black children, having a single parent appears to have a more negative effect on their chances for educational success.
Dr. Cross states that “if we could focus on creating opportunities for more affordable housing, or even better, offering people a living wage, I would speculate that those initiatives would probably be more effective than trying to get single women to get married.”
Dr. Cross earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Emory University in Atlanta and a Ph.D. in public policy and sociology from the University of Michigan.
The full study, “Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Association Between Family Structure and Children’s Education,” was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. It may be accessed here.