Mapping America 50: Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Family Structure

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Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Family Structure



This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who grew up living with both biological parents are more likely to be very happy than those who did not.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 34 percent of adults who lived in an intact family as adolescents considered themselves very happy, compared to 26 percent of those who lived in a non-intact family.[1]

Other Studies

Very little additional research has been conducted on the correlation between family structure during adolescence and adult happiness, but there are several studies that corroborate the direction of these findings. In a study of male British adolescents, Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan of the University of Oxford found "a positive relationship between father involvement and life satisfaction" and that "[b]oys from intact families tended to be happier than those living otherwise."[2]

Timothy Biblarz and Greg Gottainer of the University of Southern California also reported that adults from "single-mother homes produced by parental divorce...have a significantly lower level of general psychological well-being (or feeling of happiness)" than those who lived with both biological parents.[3]

As the available evidence indicates, adolescents who grow up in intact families are more likely to lead happier lives, as adolescents and as adults.        

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.



[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan, "Life Satisfaction in Teenage Boys: The Moderating Role of Father Involvement and Bullying," Aggressive Behavior, vol. 28 (2002): 126-133.

[3] Timothy J. Biblarz and Greg Gottainer, "Family Structure and Children's Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced  Single-Mother Families," Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 62 (2000): 533-548.


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