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 

Spring
2010

Vulnerable Victims


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


In the 1970s, liberal activists argued that permissive laws would help men and women trapped in bad marriages to move into good marriages. Somehow these activists never quite got around to thinking seriously about what would happen to the children affected by these marital shuffles. New research strongly indicates that these children are suffering.

The latest evidence that marital instability hurts children comes from researchers at the University of New Hampshire. These researchers probe for the antecedents of child victimization by scrutinizing data collected in 2002 and 2003 for a nationally representative sample of 1,000 children ages 10 to 17. These data clearly establish that “youth in single-parent families and in stepfamilies experience greater victimization than do youth residing with both biological parents.”

In parsing the data, the scholars look at the prevalence of “nonfamily perpetrated victimization” and establish that “youth in both single parent (74%) and stepfamilies (79%) had significantly higher rates than those residing with two biological parents (60%, p<.001).”

The researchers fully expected to find that youth in both types of “nontraditional families” experience elevated vulnerability to nonfamily victimization. What they did not expect to find—but did—is that “youth in stepfamilies were at substantially greater risk for victimization at the hands of family members, compared to youth in eithertwo-parent or single-parent families.” The data indeed clearly show that “for youth in stepfamilies, elevated risk of family victimization arose from multiple sources within the household: biological parents, siblings, and stepparents.”

This new study hardly enhances the credibility of the ebullient rhetoric that liberal activists once deployed to sell easy divorce.

(Heather A. Turner et al., “Family Structure Variations in Patterns and Predictors of Child Victimization,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 77 [2007]: 282–95, emphasis added.)

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