Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being

Kelly Musick, Ann Meier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Using data from three waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (N=1963), we examine associations between adolescent family experiences and young adult well-being across a range of indicators, including schooling, substance use, and family-related transitions. We compare children living with both biological parents, but whose parents differ in how often they argue, to children in stepfather and single-mother families, and we assess the extent to which differences can be understood in terms of family income and parenting practices. Findings suggest that parental conflict is associated with children's poorer academic achievement, increased substance use, and early family formation and dissolution. Living in single-mother and stepfather families tend to be more strongly associated with our indicators of well-being, although differences between these family types and living with high conflict continuously married parents are often statistically indistinguishable. Income and parenting largely do not account for associations between adolescent family type and later life outcomes. We conclude that while children do better, on average, living with two biological married parents, the advantages of two-parent families are not shared equally by all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-830
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this research was provided by Grant Numbers K01 HD42690 and K01 HD49571 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences to the first and second authors, respectively. We are grateful to Larry Bumpass, Paula England, Judith Seltzer, the editor of Social Science Research, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.


  • Family structure
  • Parental conflict
  • Parenting
  • Transition to adulthood


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