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This is What Children Need Most to Thrive

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Mar 22, 2022


A new report continues to show the importance of family structure and stability to child well-being and what investments policy makers can make to support this vital resource.

The report was produced by the Working Group on Childhood in the U.S. comprised of scholars from the center-right American Enterprise Institute and the center-left Brookings Institution, two of the leading think tanks in the country that often collaborate with each other.*

The working group focused on children 12 years of age and younger. They examined voluminous research on the state of child well-being and what children need to thrive. The working group concludes that children flourish when they have:

  • Two parents committed to one another
  • A stable home life
  • More economic resources
  • Being intended or welcomed by their parents

While the working group acknowledges that many children raised by single or cohabiting parents thrive, its members agree that growing up with married parents is the ideal family structure that leads to overall child well-being.


Because it’s the family structure in which the four resources above are most likely to be present.

The working group took a deep dive into research on family structure and stability that shows, for example, that:

  • Compared to cohabiting parents, married parents are more likely to bring commitment, nonviolence, and stability to their children’s environment
  • Compared to single parents, married parents have more income and other assets, better physical and mental health, more family stability, greater father involvement, and a host of other benefits that enrich their children’s environments

The working group offers these policy priorities that would encourage and support married parenthood:

  • Reduce marriage penalties in means-tested programs (e.g. Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that penalize low-income couples—including working-class couples—who marry
  • Strengthen career and technical education and apprenticeships—especially for people in low-income, working-class communities—that can lead to well-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree
  • Prepare young adults for parenthood before they have children through efforts that leverage each of the steps in the developmental process known as the success sequence

The report also includes how we can do more to support child well-being in the following areas:

  • Household resources
  • Early development
  • Health
  • Education
  • The teenage years

The report offers a great example of the agreement that family scholars across the policy spectrum have reached on how we can leverage the institutions in our society for the benefit of children. I encourage you to download and read the full report and one-pager that summarizes it. Distribute them to your colleagues who, like you, are committed to ensuring our children’s well-being.

How does your work with men and dads help build an environment in which children can thrive?

Do you share with men and dads the benefits that growing up with married parents can provide for their children’s well-being?

* Christopher Brown is a member of The American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network.

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: benefits of good marriage, healthy relationships, child welfare, Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, child best interests

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