The 2014 World Family Map Report, a project sponsored by Child Trends, the Institute for Family Studies, and other organizations, offers a valuable glimpse into the current state of families around the globe.
In addition to an essay on how family instability affects child health in developing countries and a short supplement on family structure and and children’s psychological health in Europe, the report supplies statistics for 49 countries (representing more than three-quarters of the global population) on how families live today. Here are a few highlights from that data.
Two-parent families are becoming less common in many countries, but they still account for the majority of the world’s families. Seventy-six to 89 percent of children live with two parents in the European and Oceanic countries covered by the report, and 85 to 94 percent of children in the selected Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The numbers are lowest (mainly between 56 and 77 percent) in Africa and Central/South America, and the United States, where adults’ romantic relationships are unusually unstable, lags behind most developed countries with just 69 percent of kids living with two parents. (These figures include parents who are unmarried but live together.)
At least four in ten children live in households with extended family members (in addition to their parents) in most of Asia, the Middle East, Central/South America, and sub-Saharan Africa. The figures are lower in Canada and most of Europe, but reach 29 percent in the United States and 45 percent in Mexico.
Marriage rates are declining in many areas, but remain quite high in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Thirty-seven to 63 percent of reproductive-age adults are married in Europe and North America, and just 20 to 44 percent in much of Central/South America, where cohabitation has long been common. Between half and three-quarters of adults are married in most of Asia and the Middle East.
With marriage rates falling, nonmarital childbearing is rising. As the report states, “rates of nonmarital childbearing are highest in Central/South America, followed by those in much of Northern and Western Europe. In South America, well over half of children are born to unmarried mothers, with Colombia registering the highest levels (84 percent). In much of Europe, between one-third and half of children are born outside of marriage, whereas in France and Sweden, more than 50 percent of children are.” This trend does not bode well for children, who generally do best in stably married, two-parent families.
Fertility rates are on the decline around the world, and are below the replacement rate in most of Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania. Rates remain higher in the Middle East (2.1 to 3.0 children per woman) and highest in sub-Saharan Africa (2.4 to 6.1).
Despite the global recession, rates of undernourishment and absolute poverty have fallen in the past twenty years. However, some countries in Central/South America and Africa still have undernourishment rates above 20 percent, and in parts of Africa, more than two-thirds the population lives in “absolute poverty” on less than $1.25 USD per day. Absolute poverty has virtually disappeared in most developed countries, but relative poverty rates—the proportion of children in households whose income is less than half of the country’s median household income—can top 20 percent. And even in the world’s richest countries, growing up in a family that’s relatively poor is a significant disadvantage for children.