Why are Children with Married Parents Healthier? The Case of Pediatric Asthma

Abstract

Among a recent birth cohort in U.S. cities, young children were far more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and to experience an asthma-related emergency if their parents were unmarried. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, I find that the child health benefits of marriage seem to stem from the benefits of parental coresidence and the demographic and socioeconomic correlates of marriage. Children whose parents live apart appear to be at heightened risk of asthma even after taking into account demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The child health benefits of marriage are only weakly related to mothers’ health behaviors and are not related to father involvement. An analysis of relationship transitions suggests that marital disruption may be more harmful for children than the disruption of cohabiting unions. The results provide some cautions and considerations for the U.S. government’s Healthy Marriage Initiative.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The survey questionnaire combined marital separation and divorce in one response category, so I cannot distinguish between the two.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Scholars in Health Policy Research program. The author gratefully acknowledges comments from anonymous reviewers, Jeb Barnes, Michael Hout, Sanders Korenman, Sara McLanahan, and Tod Mijanovich.

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Correspondence to Kristen Harknett.

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Harknett, K. Why are Children with Married Parents Healthier? The Case of Pediatric Asthma. Popul Res Policy Rev 28, 347–365 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-008-9102-9

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Keywords

  • Family structure
  • Child health
  • Asthma
  • Marriage
  • Nonmarital childbearing
  • Fragile families