The Psychological Development of Children Born Out of Wedlock

by Melody Causewell

    For children born out of wedlock, mothers remain the primary caregivers. The effects of unmarried parents on childhood development is mixed, and weighs heavily on the involvement of the father. However, similarities in psychological development exist between single-parent and two-parent households, offering hope for unmarried women concerned about the psychological development of their child.

    Psychological issues in children from single-parent households might be linked to other factors, according to research published in the "Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry" in 2002. This study looked at data from 9,398 children from one- and two-parent households and compared them for differences in functioning, including arithmetic scores, social issues and psychiatric problems. They found that children from single-parent homes scored as well as those from two-parent households. They did find correlations between hostile parenting and poorer function, noting that children from single-parent households where hostility was present might be more at risk without the buffer another parent provides.

    Positive involvement of fathers can encourage improved psychological functioning, social prowess and decrease behavioral problems, according to Swedish researchers. Published in the academic journal "Acta Pediatrica" in 2008, this study found that children who had a healthy relationships with their father showed fewer episodes of delinquency and more positive emotional profiles. They also note that these effects were more pronounced when fathers lived with the mothers, specifically with regard to externalizing -- or acting out -- issues. This suggests that it is the quality of the relationship to the child that matters more than parental martial status.

    Despite the positive effects that paternal relationships have, the absence of a father might not be detrimental, according to researchers in London. Published in the "Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry" in 2004, researchers found that children whose fathers were never present experienced more interaction with their mothers. This research also found that children showed no ill-effects from paternal absence at adolescence. Single mothers or lesbian families who never had any father involvement in child-rearing might take solace in the fact that this absence might not affect their children.

    Getting married after a child's birth may improve cognitive outcomes according to University of Miami research published in "Economic Inquiry" in 2012. This study found that cognitive development in the children of couples who chose to marry was significantly higher than in their unwed counterparts. However, they found no differences in behavioral issues, suggesting that psychological and emotional development were similar. However, psychological and cognitive outcomes for children with married parents might not be as different as once feared, according to Georgetown University research published in the journal "Child Development" in 2012. This study found that cognitive and psychological outcomes at age 3 were different only for children whose parents were likely to be married at the time of the birth, suggesting that the average differences found in other research may overestimate marital benefits to children.

    About the Author

    Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

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