- Research found children from broken homes did worse regardless of how much state support is given
- International study singled out the British welfare state as an example of failure
The welfare state has little or no bearing on how children turn out, an international research project has found.
Strong families are the key to producing well adjusted and successful youngsters, it adds.
In fact, say the researchers, the children of married parents are likely to do better than those from broken or single-parent families – no matter how much state support the family is given.
The study singled out the British welfare state as an example of the failure of state support to make a difference to the lives and success of children.
The findings, published in the US in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, come in the wake of David Cameron’s announcement of free parenting classes and relationship support sessions, and a £3.4million website which will give tips on every aspect of child rearing.
Critics have called the spending a waste, saying that parents have always understood naturally how to bring up children and that a stable family is far more important to a child.
The study carried out by researchers at two American universities examined evidence from both Britain and the US – one with a large welfare state, one without – on how the lives of children progress between the ages of five and 13.
It said there were a number of risk factors common to both countries that increased the likelihood that a child would have behavioural problems.
Boys were more likely to have difficulties than girls, health problems led to other difficulties for children, and children of divorced parents faced a greater likelihood of trouble.
In Britain, the study said, the influence of ‘family structure’ – whether a child has its two birth parents, or just one parent, or lives with a step-parent – was more important than in America.
Professor Toby Parcel of North Carolina State University said: ‘We found that stronger home environments – those that are intellectually stimulating, nurturing, and physically safe – decrease the likelihood of behaviour problems in both the US and Great Britain.’
‘We wanted to see whether the role of parents was equally important in both societies because the argument has been made that more developed welfare states, such as Great Britain, can make the role of parents less important, by providing additional supports that can help compensate for situations where households have more limited resources.
‘This study tells us that parents are important in households, regardless of the strength of the welfare state.’
The effect of having two married parents was more important in Britain, the study said. It also found that children from big families were more likely to have problems here.
The study found that family structure effects were more pronounced in Britain, where a child from a family with a single mother or multiple children was at a higher risk of having behavioural problems.
‘Additionally, the more children in a British family, the greater the likelihood a child from that family had behavioural problems. These effects were absent in the US.’
The report, Children’s Behaviour Problems in the United States and Great Britain, adds to a large body of evidence which points to the importance of married parents and a stable family background in the upbringing of a child.
Mr Cameron’s own research into the happiness of individuals and families in Britain – being carried out by the Office for National Statistics at a cost to taxpayers of £2million a year – has found that marriage makes a difference to levels of life satisfaction.
A report on the happiness research last month said: ‘People who are married or in civil partnerships reported the highest average levels of life satisfaction, significantly higher than cohabiting couples.
‘The lowest average rating was reported by people who are divorced or separated, including those who have dissolved civil partnerships.’
The American study was led by Professor Parcel together with Dr Lori Ann Campbell, of Cal State-Northridge college, and Dr Wenxuan Zhong, of University of Illinois.