The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Fall
2012

Broken Homes, Broken Bones


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Emergency-room doctors see more than their share of children from broken homes. The linkage between children’s risk of suffering accidental injury and their family background stands out clearly in a study conducted at the University of Nottingham. Acutely aware of the human cost of accidental injuries among children, the researchers begin their analysis:

Childhood injury is largely preventable, yet continues to be a significant public health issue. Globally an estimated 2,400 children die every day due to injury and violence and many more are disabled or require substantial medical intervention. In high income countries injuries still account for 40% of all child deaths between age 1–14.

To identify the circumstances that put children particularly at risk of injury, the Nottingham scholars analyze data collected from 255 general practices across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland with 3.9 million patient records. The data of interest to the researchers are those for children under age 5 with a first medically recorded injury—whether that injury is “thermal injury” (i.e., burns), bone fractures, or poisoning. As the researchers scrutinize these data, family background emerges as a significant statistical predictor of children’s accident risk. Looking specifically at “thermal injuries,” the researchers report, “Children living in 2-adult households had a lower odds of injury compared with those in single adult households” (Odds Ratio, 0.90; 95 percent Confidence Interval, 0.83–0.97).

Turning their attention to bone fractures, the researchers similarly conclude that “the odds of fracture decreased . . . in households with 2 adults compared with single adult households” (Odds Ratio, 0.88; 95 percent Confidence Interval, 0.82–0.95). Though a similar pattern appeared in the simple bivariate assessment of poisoning, the relationship between injury and family composition fell below the level of statistical significance in the more sophisticated model taking into account such background variables as maternal age, parental use of tobacco, and socioeconomic deprivation.

When the researchers indicate that their “findings highlight further opportunities for childhood injury prevention,” they do not spell out fully what these opportunities might be. However, any sober reading of the study would suggest that the opportunities that matter most would include those that foster enduring parental marriages.

(Elizabeth Orton et al., “Independent Risk Factors for Injury in Pre-School Children: Three Population-Based Nested Case-Control Studies Using Routine Primary Care Data,” PLoS One 7.4 [April 5, 2012]: e35193.)

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