Executive Summary

Mindy E. Scott, W. Bradford Wilcox, Renee Ryberg, and Laurie DeRose

The World Family Map Project monitors the global health of the family by tracking 16 indicators of family structure, family socioeconomics, family processes, and family culture in multiple countries around the world. Each annual report of the project shares the latest data on these indicators, as well as an original essay focusing on one important aspect of contemporary family life. In both the indicators and the essay, we share the highest-quality data available for countries that are representative of each region of the world. 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.

This third edition of the World Family Map, which is sponsored by Child Trends, the Social Trends Institute, and a range of international educational and nongovernmental institutions, provides updated indicators of family well-being worldwide. The World Family Map indicators show that there are distinct family patterns across regions, and also variation within regions. Families are changing around the world. Marriage is becoming less common. Severe economic hardships, including extreme poverty and undernutrition, are diminishing, yet remain real struggles for a significant minority of the world’s population. There are many other patterns to discover in the report. Each country and region has unique strengths to offer as an example for others to follow, and each also has areas of life where families face ongoing challenges.

This year’s essay examines how couples around the globe split up work and family responsibilities. International data reveal there is no one dominant pattern for dividing paid and domestic work in any world region. Moreover, no particular approach to the division of labor is consistently linked to higher levels of happiness among parents in most parts of the world, although parents who have a partner with whom to divide the labor report more happiness than parents who do not have a partner. We summarize selected findings from this year’s family indicators below.

Family Structure

Family structure refers to whom a child lives with, including parents and other family members, and the relationships between them.

  • The majority of children around the globe live in two-parent families. In all countries except South Africa, more than half of children live with two parents. Children are especially likely to live with both parents in Asia and the Middle East.
  • Extended families, who (like parents) can provide an important measure of social and economic support to children, are most widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Asia and Central/South America. Indeed, in Central/South America and sub-Saharan Africa, a relatively large minority of children live with only one or no parents, but the households of children in these regions are more likely to include extended family members, who may compensate for the absence of one or both parents.
  • Children are also more likely to live with one or no parents in North America, Europe, and Oceania than in Asia and the Middle East, though living with extended families is less common in these regions.
  • Though the prevalence of marriage varies widely around the world, the proportion of reproductive-age adults who are married is declining in almost all regions. Marriage tends to be more common in Asia and the Middle East than in other regions, whereas alternatives to marriage—including cohabitation—are more popular in Europe and Central/South America. North America, Oceania, and sub-Saharan Africa fall in between.
  • Between 20 percent (Chile) and 35 percent (Colombia) of reproductive-age adults are part of cohabiting unions in South America, with Colombia registering the highest level of cohabitation of any country in our global study. Meanwhile, cohabitation has become more prevalent in Spain, doubling in popularity from 7 percent of the adult population in 2007 to 14 percent in 2011.
  • Like the prevalence of marriage, fertility rates vary widely around the world. Women in East Asia and Europe experience low fertility levels that may result in shrinking populations, while women in some sub-Saharan African countries are actually having more babies than in the recent past.
  • Central/South America is home to the world’s most elevated rates of nonmarital childbearing, followed by 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, and in France and Sweden, more than 50 percent of children are. In many European countries, the average age at first marriage now exceeds the average age at first childbirth.

Family Socioeconomics

The economic conditions people experience in childhood can exercise a large influence on their development. The indicators in this section include poverty, undernourishment, parental education and employment, and public benefits for families.

  • In 2010, the world reached the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living on less than one US dollar a day between 1990 and 2015. However, progress toward this goal has been uneven, and high rates of absolute poverty persist in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central/South America.
  • The global proportion of people who suffer from hunger has declined, but the United Nations’ MDG to cut that number in half between 1990 and this year was not met. Undernourishment, which disproportionately affects children, remains a problem for more than one in 10 people in the developing world. It is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, Central/South America, and parts of Asia.
  • There is wide variation in levels of parental education and employment around the world. The percentage of heads of households who have completed secondary education is in the single digits in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, while secondary education is the norm in much of North America, Oceania, and Europe. The majority of household heads are employed in all countries except South Africa, and children in Asia are most likely to live with employed household heads.

Family Processes

Family processes describe how families operate: how family members interact with one another, how often they spend time together, and whether they are satisfied with their family lives. These processes can influence the lives of individual family members, in either positive or negative directions.

  • The majority of adults agree that both men and women should contribute to household income in all the countries examined in this report. In some countries, such as Australia, just over 50 percent of adults believe this, whereas in others, like the Philippines, this belief is nearly universal.
  • People express a wide range of levels of satisfaction with family life around the world. As in previous years, the highest levels of family satisfaction are found in South America, where 78 percent of Argentineans and 67.5 percent of Chileans report being completely or very satisfied with their family lives. In contrast, less than one-third of adults in Asia report being satisfied with their family lives.

Family Culture

The family culture indicators monitor national attitudes and values on family issues. They describe the cultural climate in which children grow up.

  • In all countries examined, the majority of adults agree that working mothers can establish relationships with their children that are as strong as those of stay-at-home mothers. Levels of support range from just over 50 percent in Chile to 80 percent in France.
  • Support for single parents is lower than for working mothers. About half of adults believe that one parent can raise a child as well as two parents. Single parenthood is least accepted in China, where less than one-quarter of adults believe that one parent can bring up a child as well as two.

Essay on Work, Family, and Happiness the World Over

This year’s essay further highlights the diversity of family processes and family culture within and across countries. Building on the previous World Family Map Project essays, which focused on the consequences of family structure for, respectively, children’s educational attainment and health, this year’s essay studies some of the factors that influence family well-being. Data on 32 countries from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) 2012 survey on Family and Changing Gender Roles were used to examine how married and cohabiting couples with children divide market and household work and whether couples’ happiness depends on this division of labor. Specifically, the essay aims to:

  • 1– document how couples with children divide labor force participation, housework, and child care;
  • 2– explore whether individual factors like age, education, and religiosity affect how couples divide labor in the same way across societies or whether the influence of these factors depends on region-specific contexts; and
  • 3– assess whether and how the division of labor is associated with happiness.

As the essay explains in greater depth, our findings suggest that there is no one dominant pattern for dividing paid and domestic work across the globe. Instead, every region is home to a variety of ways of sharing the total family workload. Men and especially women with children do more domestic work than their peers without children. Yet having children is more associated with a traditional division of labor in richer countries than in lower-income ones. Finally, the division of paid and domestic labor among couples with children is largely irrelevant to the levels of happiness they report.

We know from research and previous WFM findings that the experiences of children in different family structures are diverse, and children can flourish in all kinds of families, including single-parent families. With respect to reported happiness, this year’s edition of the World Family Map found that how couples with children divide labor does not seem to influence the levels of happiness they report, except in Eastern and Western Europe. However, there are differences in levels of reported happiness between single parents and couples with children: couples report higher levels of happiness.

This report monitors the strength of the family globally, and provides updated indicators of family structure, family socioeconomics, family processes, and family culture. Together, the indicators and the essay present findings that can be used by policymakers, service providers, and others to identify opportunities to help families flourish, from maintaining family stability, reducing family poverty, and alleviating undernourishment to studying the diverse family processes and cultural norms that help to shape people’s everyday lives.

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