Report Finds U.S. Lags Middle- and High-Income Countries in Investments in Families Despite High Child Poverty Rate

September 22, 2015 

Findings identify global opportunities to help families flourish, maintain family stability, reduce family poverty, and alleviate undernourishment

Bethesda, Md. – A Child Trends report released today finds that family life in the United States differs from that of other countries in many important respects. According to the 2015 World Family Map, the proportion of U.S. children living in poverty is higher than that of most high-income countries, yet the United States spends only a small portion of its GDP (0.7 percent) on benefits for families—a percentage that is one-half or even one-fourth the size of many other middle- and high-income countries. Among 21 countries in the study, the U.S. ranks second to last in the percentage of its GDP spent on benefits for families, despite one of the highest relative child poverty rates of the comparable high-income countries.

The World Family Map report monitors the global health of families by tracking 16 indicators in 49 countries, representing all regions of the world. For example, this year’s report examines levels of family satisfaction and finds that two-thirds of U.S. adults are completely or very satisfied with their family life. This rate is higher than countries in the study from Europe and most of Asia, but lower than rates in South American countries.

This year’s report includes an essay examining how parents divide labor-force participation, housework, and child care. “From the U.S. to Asia, we see tremendous diversity in how couples with children divide work and family responsibilities,” said Laurie DeRose, research director of the World Family Map and Faculty Associate of the Maryland Population Research Center.  In the U.S., 29 percent reported a traditional division of paid and domestic work (women do no paid work, but more domestic work), and 24 percent reported a modern one (men and women share both responsibilities).

Scholars around the globe serve as advisors and analysts for the project, stimulating a large community of researchers to gather new data and conduct innovative studies on families and children.

Some highlights of the findings include:

Family Structure

  • The average U.S. child lives with two parents and no other adults: 69 percent live with two parents; 27 percent live with one parent; less than 5 percent live without either parent.
  • Children in the U.S. are more likely to grow up with one or no parent than other children in middle- and high-income countries, but less likely to do so than children in low-income countries.
  • Twenty-nine (29) percent of U.S. children live with extended family—a lower rate than other countries, such as South Africa (70 percent) or Nicaragua (55 percent). The United States is in the middle of the global pack when it comes to the percentage of reproductive-aged adults who are married (49 percent); about 15 percent of adults age 18-49 are living with partners, but not married.
  • In the United States, about 40 percent of births occur outside of marriage—a moderate rate compared to other countries. For example, 84 percent of births in Colombia occur outside of marriage, and in Peru, 76 percent. The United States has a fertility rate that is close to the level needed to replenish the population from one generation to the next.  This is not the case in Western Europe or East Asia, where low fertility is an ongoing policy concern.

Family Socioeconomics

  • As in most countries with available data, less than five percent of people in the U.S. are undernourished.
  • Eighty-six (86) percent of U.S. children live with at least one parent who completed high school, which is comparable to most middle- and high-income countries, but much higher than children in low-income countries.
  • Seventy-four (74) percent of children in the U.S. live with an employed head of the household. Only five other countries examined—Romania, Chile, Bolivia, Spain, and Jordan—have lower parental employment rates.

Family Process and Culture

  • Sixty-five (65) percent of U.S. adults agree that both the man and the woman should earn income for the family. In sub-Saharan African, South American, and non-English-speaking parts of Western Europe, over 80 percent of adults say that both men and women should contribute to household income.
  • U.S. adults are less trusting of their families than adults in other countries. Seventy percent of U.S. adults completely trust their families, whereas 92 percent of Argentinians, 94 percent of Turkish adults, and 97 percent of adults from Jordan do.

Child Trends, the Social Trends Institute, and a range of international educational and nongovernmental institutions sponsored this third edition of the World Family Map. It provides updated indicators of family well-being worldwide.

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Child Trends, based in Bethesda, Md., is a mission-driven, independent organization that conducts and communicates rigorous, unbiased research and applies this information to inform policies and practices to improve the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families. For 36 years, policymakers, funders, educators and service providers in the U.S. and around the world have relied on our data and analyses to improve policies and programs serving children and youth. Our work is supported by foundations; federal, state and local government agencies; and by nonprofit organizations.