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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Are Both Parents Always Better Than One? Parental Conflict and Young Adult Well-Being

  • Author(s): Musick, Kelly
  • Meier, Ann
  • et al.

Using new data from three waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (N=1,963), 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 investigate how children living in biological two-parent families characterized by frequent marital conflict fare compared to those living in stepfather and singlemother families, and we assess whether differences can be understood in terms of family income and parenting practices. Findings suggest that exposure to parental conflict in adolescence is associated with poorer academic achievement, increased substance use, and early family formation and dissolution, often in ways indistinguishable from living in a stepfather or singlemother family. Income and parenting largely do not account for these associations. While children tend to do better living with two biological married parents, the advantages of twoparent families are not shared equally by all.

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