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Two-Parent Divide in the US Runs Along Geographic Lines

Family relaxing in dining room
Photograph by Getty Images

Children growing up in the Northern part of the United States are much more likely to have both parents in the same household than children growing up in the Southern part. A new analysis of census data found this North-South divide.

Image via the New York Times

The divide of two-parent families versus single-parent families isn't a political one. It is distinctly geographical, as found in analysis from W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist, and Nicholas Zill, a psychologist. The two began their analysis after reading new articles about upward mobility and marriage, and how they relate to geographical location in the U.S.

Their results clearly show the divide of where the two main types of families are found in the U.S. Surprisingly, Southern states that typically are considered to have more strict "family values" are where single-parent families are mainly located. Northern states, where there are statistically higher levels of education and income on average, are more likely to have two-parent families.

The data only shows children living with both biological parents, not counting children adopted as babies or children with same-sex parents. The changes if this data were included are not expected to be significant since a small percentage of children are adopted nationwide.

Two-parent families are found mainly in the Midwest, through the Dakotas, onto the Great Lakes states and further east into New England. Single-parent families are large in Nevada and New Mexico, extending east into the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.

Image via the New York Times

The data from this analysis could be skewed for several reasons. Both the number of marriages and divorces has declined in recent years. The number of single parents and subsequently, the number of children who never live with both of their parents, has risen in contrast.

There is also the factor of children living with one parent and the partner of that parent. These households are still considered to be single-parent, even though there are two adults in the home. This family structure is also reportedly unstable, because there are not two biological parents in the partnership, giving the partner greater leniency to leave at any time.

"Most of those relationships don't go the distance," Wilcox told the New York Times.

There is still a lot to learn about the effect on children of growing up with one parent versus growing up with two parents. However, according to Wilcox, most children tend to do better in a household with both parents, which is a more predominant family structure in the North.

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