Family Stability: Priceless Medicine for Childhood Health in the Developing World

15 May 2014

The World Family Map 2014, released this month in the US, suggests that the family contexts of caregiving deserve attention in ongoing efforts to improve children’s health around the world.

Family instability compromises parents’ ability to provide the kind of consistent and attentive care that is most likely to foster good health in children. This is one of the findings of the World Family Map 2014, an international research project directed by Prof. Brad Wilcox, of the University of Virginia (download here). The mechanisms of family instability that may compromise children’s health might include increased levels of stress, less focus on the child, a reduction in social support, and a decrease in socioeconomic resources. Extended kin networks, communities, and private and public programs can do much to alleviate these stressors as families go through these transitions so as to improve health outcomes for children who experience such instability.

Together, the indicators and the essay suggest many opportunities to improve family and thus child well-being globally. These opportunities include fostering union stability (assuming parents have low-conflict relationships), extended family support, improving nutrition and parental education, and encouraging parent-child communication, among others.

The World Family Map Project, sponsored by Child Trends, Social Trends Institute and a range of educational and nongovernmental institutions from across the globe, monitors global changes in the areas of family structure, family socioeconomics, family processes, and family culture, focusing on 16 specific indicators in 49 countries. It points individuals, families, communities, NGOs, and governments to some key factors affecting child and family well-being that policies and programs can shape in order to foster strong families and positive outcomes for children.

The inaugural edition of the World Family Map provided indicators of family well-being worldwide and an essay focusing on family living arrangements and education outcomes. This second annual edition of the World Family Map provides updated indicators and a new essay focusing on union stability and early childhood health in developing countries, as well as a brief analysis of psychological distress among 9- to 16-year-olds in the European Union.

Social Trends Institute will publish the Spanish version of The World Family Map 2014 in September.