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 

Broken Families, Spiraling Health-Care Costs

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The Obama administration believes that an unprecedented expansion of government is the only way to deal with spiraling medical costs. A study by French, Canadian, and American researchers, however, suggests that the key to controlling long-term medical costs may be not bigger government but stronger family life.

Completed by scholars at the Department of Public Health at the Hôpital Saint Antoine in Paris, at McGill University in Montreal, and at Pennsylvania State University, this study provides hard evidence that children who experience parental divorce suffer from decidedly worse health as young adults than do peers who grow up in intact families. By parsing longitudinal data collected through a socio-epidemiological survey of a random sample of 3,000 households initiated in the Paris metropolitan area in 2005, the researchers examined the effect of family social environment in childhood upon self-rated health (overall health, physical health and psychological well-being) in young adulthood.

Compared to peers from intact families, the young adults (ages 18 to 37) in this study who grew up in “disrupted families . . . ranked more at the negative end of the health scales.” Indeed, the researchers report that even after making appropriate statistical adjustments for age, gender, marital status, and socioeconomic status, they found a clear “association between family disruption in childhood and poor self-perceived general health status (OR [Odds Ratio] = 1.93), poor self-rated physical health (OR = 1.98) and poor psychological well-being (OR = 1.79)” in young adulthood. These Odds Ratios indicate that, compared to peers from intact families, young adults who had grown up in broken homes were almost twice as likely to suffer from poorer general health, poorer physical health, and poorer psychological health.

The magnitude of these findings should attract the attention of anyone serious about containing health-care costs. Unfortunately, Americans can expect the Obama administration simply to look the other way as they continue to enlarge the federal bureaucracy and to wage war against the Defense of Marriage Act.

(Christelle Roustit et al., “Family Social Environment in Childhood and Self-Rated Health in Young Adulthood,” BMC Public Health 11 [December 22, 2011]: 949.)