State of the Family, Worldwide

Child Trends published its annual international report World Family Map 2014: Mapping Family Change and Child Well-Being. The World Family Map Project “monitors family well-being and investigates how family characteristics affect children’s healthy development around the globe.” It follows trends in the family because it is “the core institution for child-rearing worldwide.” Strong families produce “positive child outcomes.” Not earth-shattering truths, but truths nonetheless. The latest annual report looks at 16 indicators to measure changes in family structure, family socioeconomics and family processes.

I Family Structure

The number of parents and extended family members in a child’s household influence the human and financial resources available to the child.

It should not be surprising that the ideal household for a child is the married two-parent household wherein the child gets lots of attention and more financial resources. Changes in the family structure around the globe have decimated the two-parent household in some regions. Yet, despite an overall decline in the two-parent household, the majority of global households still have this traditional composition.

Who’s Taking Care of the Children?

Children thrive in two-parent households. The regions with the highest rates of these households are Asia and the Middle East, with nearly 90% of children living in two-parent households. The highest rate is 94%, in Jordan. These are more traditional societies compared to those in the West, where a significant minority (20%) of children in North America, Europe and Oceania live in single parent households. Only 69% of American children live with both parents.

Children in South Africa have the worst parental contact rates: 43% live with one parent and 20% live without either parent. AIDS orphans fill the South African landscape.

Decline of Marriage

Marriage has played a lavishly important role in the families around the world throughout all of time. But there have been some dramatic changes in recent history, triggering great variation in family structure. Cohabitation, divorce and non-marital childbearing have seen nontrivial increases in the last generation, at least in Europe, the Americans and Oceania.

The World Family Map measured the number of individuals in their reproductive years (18-49) in either marriage or cohabitation relationships: the most “coupled” countries were India, Indonesia and Egypt; the most “single” countries were South Africa, Singapore and Chile. South Africa was the lowest, with just 43% in unions of any kind.

The highest cohabitation societies were found in Canada (19%), Sweden (25%), France (25%), and Peru (38%). Cohabitation is a dramatic change from the previously strong marriage culture in Europe and North America, but this kind of union is not such a new phenomenon in South America, where couples have chosen non-marital unions for a long time. The United States cohabitation rate is at 9%, according to the report.

Kids Without Married Parents

The kids who do the best in a litany of performance areas, from academic success to social behavior, have two parents who are married to each other. That is why the World Family Stats report measured the number of children in homes with unmarried or single parents. Unmarried parents are a huge problem in South America, where the majority of children grow up in such homes. One of these countries, Columbia, places 84% of its children in this situation. France and Sweden are two European countries where the majority of children are born in homes without married parents. A particularly telling statistic, in many European countries the average age at first childbirth is actually lower than age at first marriage. There is a range in North American homes, from 27% in Canada to 41% in the US to 55% in Mexico. Africa displays far more variety, ranging from 6% in Nigeria to 63% in South Africa.World Family Stats Report

Fewer, and Fewer Kids

Unless you have been listening only to propaganda from environmentalist fear-mongers, you are probably aware that people in the developed world are not having enough children. Rich societies are not replacing themselves in adequate numbers to continue the economic growth they have enjoyed for centuries. Immigrants can provide short-term solutions, but not without transforming the cultures which require them in the long-term.

The report said that European fertility rates are under the replacement level, despite gains since hitting their lows in the early 2000s. Using the report’s numbers from 2011, the Middle East is replacing itself just fine, with the exception of Turkey which, at a fertility rate of 2.1, has fallen to the minimum replacement level— close to that of the United States (1.9). Sub-Saharan Africa has mostly high fertility levels, ranging from a low of 2.4 in South Africa to a high of 6.1 in Uganda.

Lower fertility is not just a problem of Europe and the United States; the fertility rate in every country in East Asia is 1.6 or lower. And Eastern Europe is even lower than Eastern Asia, when comparing regions. But the lowest rates for individual countries are found in Asia. The Koreans have very low fertility rates (1.4) and so do the Chinese, regardless of where they live: 1.6 in China, 1.3 in Singapore and 1.1 in Taiwan. That means Chinese low fertility rates might have very little to do with the one-child policy on the mainland.

 II Family Socioeconomics

Socioeconomics measures the resources that support child well-being. These include material resources as well as human resources and government resources. In other word: how much money and education do kids have?

Poverty

Poverty is particularly bad for children: it hurts their physical and emotional health. The World Bank measures absolute poverty by numbering how many people live on less than $1.25 (USD) per day. Incredible improvements have been made worldwide in lifting children out of poverty in the past few decades. But poverty today is still a major problem in several areas. The highest poverty rates were, unsurprisingly, found in Africa, with 88% of Congo in poverty and 68% in Nigeria and Tanzania. The lowest African poverty rates were in Ghana (29%) and South Africa (14%). Some parts of Oceania also have high levels of extreme poor. Asian countries range from 0% in Malaysia to 13% in China to 33% in India—an incredibly high number for such a large country. Central and South American countries have international poverty rates under 10% for the most part, although Bolivia has 16% living on under $1.25 per day. The Middle East, Mexico and Eastern Europe have less than two percent of their peoples beneath the international poverty line.

Undernourishment

First, check out the amazing progress: in 1990-92 the world had 23% of people undernourished; by 2010-12 the number had fallen to 15%.

Undernourished children are more likely to have physical problems (blindness, stunted growth) and mental developmental problems. It is a cyclical and societal problem. Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children and, according to the report, undernourishment in a country’s children can cause up productivity losses of up to 3% GDP, just from this lack of nourishment. Countries with the worst numbers on undernourishment for 2011-13 were Ethiopia (37%), Tanzania (33%), and Uganda (30%). The other countries with major nourishment issues, in order of percentage, were Kenya, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Bolivia, India, Philippines, Peru and China.

Parental Education

Another socioeconomic indicator of children’s overall well-being is the education level of a child’s parents. This is one of the complexities that show you how impossible it is to simply give money to families in an effort to lower inequality. What would it matter how much money a child’s parents had if his parents were total dummies? Successful parents give their children far more than money: they pass on culture and education and a love of learning. The World Family Stats report said that well-educated parents are more likely to give to their children “extracurricular activities, books, cognitive stimulation, and high educational expectations.”

The measure used to indicate parental education is simple: the percentage of kids living in households wherein the head has finished secondary education (high school or equivalency test). Note that the household head does not have to be a parent; it could be the grandparent, as is the case in one out of five Russian households.

Using date ranging from 2000-12, the report found that the highest rates of household heads with at least a secondary education were Japan and South Korea at 88% and 87%, several Western European countries at over 80%, the United States at 85% and Israel at 77%. China had 34%, India 18% and Malaysia only 12%. The Malaysia figure is striking when you consider its extremely low poverty rate. In the Middle East, a particularly low parental education country was Turkey, with only 31% of household heads graduating high school. The lowest rates worldwide were found in sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from 1% (!) to 26%.

III Family Processes

Measures the level of interaction within families by examining communication patterns, satisfaction levels and time spent together.

Measuring family processes is harder to quantify than other indicators of family health. One of the problems is that the surveys ask subjective questions. The other problem is that it only asked questions of seven or eight countries, giving a less than global picture of family processes.

A subjective survey of “family satisfaction” found that somewhere between about one-half and two-thirds of Western European and Asian families were satisfied in their family life. The highest satisfaction level is in Chile (74%) and the lowest level is in the region of Eastern Europe, with only 31% feeling satisfied.

Russia seemed to fare badly in these surveys, scoring last out of eight countries on the question of how many feel “completely or very satisfied” with their family life (31%), and also on how many couples report low levels of disagreement about household work (only 55% reported low levels). Apparently 88% of couples in the Philippines understand their respective roles in the household and don’t complain about them.

Another survey gauged the amount of quality time families were spending together by researching how commonly 15-year olds eat their main meal with their families. The least talkative teenagers in the study were in South Korea, where nearly less than two-thirds socialize with their families at dinnertime; Italian teenagers cannot shut up, however, with 94% of them sharing that main meal. The research showed that children who ate meals with their families more frequently enjoyed higher scores in reading literacy.

 Conclusion

The fundamental makeup of the family is shaping up to be far more traditional in Asia and the Middle East. Wealthy Western countries are seeing fewer and fewer two-parent households, which does not bode well for the future generations in the West. The family in the west is crumbling: fewer couples are having kids, and fewer couples are getting married. The children who do arise in the West, do so in an environment freer of commitment. Latin American children are being born into families without married parents. Asians are not having children. Africans are having children, but too many of them are in extreme poverty—living on less than $1.25 a day. The Middle East, Mexico, Eastern Europe and Malaysia are doing surprisingly well on poverty numbers. Impressive and life-saving improvements have been made over the last 20 years on the problem of undernourishment; the numbers are still way too bad in places like Kenya and India and China and several parts of South America. The recipe for family success is always in the fundamentals: get married, spend quality times with your children, make sure they get enough to eat. The World Family Stats report showed some positive improvements in poorer countries and worrying trends in wealthier countries.

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