The Health of Parents and Their Children: A Two-Generation Inquiry

Research BriefFamiliesOct 4 2018

Health is a fundamental component of wellbeing. Children’s health affects their ability to succeed in school and engage in other learning opportunities within the contexts of their family, neighborhood, and community. This brief examines the relationship between the health of children and that of their parents, and between the availability of emotional support for parenting and children’s health, based on a large national sample. We use parent self-reports of health, which prior research has determined are valid measures of health status for both parents and their children. We find that, controlling for demographic and household characteristics, children’s health is strongly associated with the health of their parents, suggesting that approaches addressing two-generation health may be beneficial. However, the availability of emotional support for parenting is not significantly associated with children’s health.

Key Findings

• Most children in the United States—nearly 9 in 10—are in very good or excellent health, according to their parents. Most parents (about two thirds) also report that their own health is very good or excellent. However, for both groups, health varied by race/ethnicity, family income, and parents’ education level.

• The proportions of children and parents in very good or excellent health vary substantially across the states: For children, percentages range from 85 percent to 94 percent; for parents, 54 percent to 74 percent.

• Controlling for a host of demographic factors yields data showing a strong, positive association between parent health and child health.

• Availability of emotional support for parenting, though important in other contexts, is not significantly associated with children’s health.

• The interconnectedness of parent and child health offers the potential for children to benefit from interventions that improve the health of parents.