Family Processes

Key Findings: Family process indicators describe the interactions between members of a family, including their relationships, views on the roles of family members, time spent together, and satisfaction with family life. It is challenging to obtain data on family processes that allow for international comparisons, but there has been some improvement in this situation with the release of new data.

Here we discuss several indicators of family process that can influence child and family well-being: self-reported family satisfaction; views on partners’ contribution to household income; how regularly parents and children discuss school; how often families eat meals together; and how much time parents and teenagers spend talking. There is wide variation on these measures across the few countries that have data available.

  • Between 30 percent (South Korea) and 78 percent (Argentina) of adults around the world are completely or very satisfied with their family life (17 countries with information).
  • More than half of adults agree that both men and women should contribute to household income, with agreement ranging from 54 percent (Australia) to 92 percent (Philippines) (18 countries).
  • Across surveyed countries, between 44 percent and 92 percent of 15-year-olds spend time just talking to their parents every day or almost every day. The percentage of 15-year-olds who eat the main meal with their families varies widely throughout the world, ranging from 60 percent in South Korea to 94 percent in Italy (seven countries).

Family Satisfaction

Satisfaction with family life both influences and is influenced by family structure, economics, and culture. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) recently released new data, collected circa 2012, so these figures update the 2002 data presented in earlier editions of the World Family Map.

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 life, as seen in Figure 10. Adults in Asia experience the lowest levels of family satisfaction, with only 30 percent of South Korean adults and 32 percent of Chinese adults expressing satisfaction with their family life. In India and the Philippines, however, adults report more family satisfaction, with 51.5 percent and 68 percent reporting satisfaction, respectively. The surveyed countries in North America and Eastern and Western Europe fall in the middle, with satisfaction rates between 34 and 66.5 percent.

WFM-Figure10_2015-01

Sources: www.worldfamilymap.org/2015/e-ppendix/figure10

There have been some notable changes in levels of satisfaction with family life in the past decade. The reasons for these changes in satisfaction are not immediately apparent, and the changes may simply be due to methodological differences between years of the study.58 In 2002, Eastern Europe had the lowest levels of family satisfaction of any region. In the past decade, however, the proportion of adults reporting being satisfied with their families increased by 18 percentage points in Poland. Similarly, the proportion of adults reporting satisfaction increased by almost 11 percentage points in the Philippines. Conversely, rates of satisfaction decreased by more than five percentage points in Chile and Ireland.

Views on Contributions to Household Income

Around the world, one-half of all working-age women work. The percentage of women working has actually decreased over the past couple years, and remains highly variable by country and region.59 Here, for the first time, we are reporting the percentage of adults who agree or strongly agree that both the man and the woman should contribute to household income. Data come from the 2012 ISSP and are displayed in Figure 10. In all countries with data available, more than half of adults agree that both partners should contribute financially, with rates of agreement ranging from a low of 54 percent in Australia to a high of 92 percent in the Philippines.

Regionally, the highest rates of support for dual-income families are in sub-Saharan Africa (represented by South Africa), South America (represented by Argentina and Chile), and non-English-speaking parts of Western Europe. In each of these regions, over 80 percent of adults say that both men and women should contribute to household income. Rates of agreement are similar in Eastern Europe, at 76 percent in Russia and Poland, and more varied in Asia, where they range from 67 percent in South Korea to 92 percent in the Philippines.

The lowest rates of agreement are found in English-speaking countries of several different regions: in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, less than 65 percent of adults agree that both the man and woman should earn income for the family. In spite of this fact, over half of women are part of the labor force in each of these countries,60 and support for working moms is moderately high (as described below). Though it may seem surprising, English-speaking countries tend to hang together with more traditional values.61

With all attitude-based indicators, it is important to keep in mind that attitudes and behaviors do not always align.62 For additional information on the distribution of household labor and gender attitudes, see the essay section of this report.

Discussions With Parents

Communicating with children, both generally and about school, is a positive family activity that any parent can do, and that can enhance parent-youth relationships as well as student academic outcomes.63 Here we will report on two different indicators of parent-adolescent communication: how often they talk in general and how often they discuss school. Data for this indicator come from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey. The PISA sample contains primarily middle- and higher-income countries, and only eight countries included in the World Family Map chose to include questions on parental communication with students. PISA asks parents of 15-year-olds how frequently they discuss their son or daughter’s school performance with them and how often the two spend time talking about anything. The indicators report the percentage of 15-year-olds whose parents report that they have such conversations every day or almost every day.

How often students discuss school with and spend time just talking to their parents varies widely throughout the world. In some regions, discussing school is more popular, while in others general conversation occurs more often. Across surveyed countries, between 44 and 92 percent of 15-year-olds spend time just talking to their parents every day or almost every day, and between 19 and 79 percent of teens discuss how well they are doing at school with their parents as frequently, as seen in Figure 11.

WFM-Figure11_2015-01

Sources: www.worldfamilymap.org/2015/e-ppendix/figure11

In Asia, 15-year-olds from South Korea and from two Special Administrative Regions in China, Hong Kong and Macao, are less likely to discuss how well they are doing in school with their parents every day or almost every day than those in other parts of the world. In Macao, just 19 percent do so, while in South Korea 28 percent and in Hong Kong 31 percent do so. By contrast, students in these Asian regions talked to their parents frequently about more general topics at similar rates to students in other regions, from 39 percent in Macao to 66 percent in Hong Kong.

In the Americas, represented by Chile and Mexico, students are more likely to discuss school with their parents than to spend time just talking—a pattern unique to these regions. About 60 percent of students discuss school with their parents daily or almost daily, while about 45 percent of students spend time just talking to their parents with the same frequency.

In Europe, teens have comparatively more discussions with their parents. In Italy and Hungary, approximately three-quarters of 15-year-olds talk with their parents daily or almost daily both about their school performance and about other topics. German teens are less likely to discuss school with their parents (just 36 percent do so almost every day or daily) but are the most likely to spend time just talking to their parents on a daily or near-daily basis, with 92 percent doing so.

Family Meals

When families eat meals together regularly, children can talk with their parents and share what is going on in their lives.64 It is a direct measure of a positive family process.

In the United States, eating together as a family has been linked to myriad positive outcomes, ranging from reduced levels of substance and alcohol use to lower levels of depression, even after accounting for other family factors. Eating meals together is also associated with favorable educational outcomes, such as showing a commitment to learning, seeking and earning higher grades, spending more time on homework, and reading for pleasure.65 After including controls for background characteristics, one study found that eating meals as a family was the most important predictor of adolescent flourishing.66 Recent longitudinal research has found that the value of eating meals together as a family may dissipate as adolescents enter young adulthood, leaving only indirect effects on well-being.67 The influence of sharing meals on young people’s outcomes also depends on the quality of family relationships. While sharing meals in families with stronger relationships has been found to have positive associations with child well-being, sharing meals has been found to have less influence on children’s development in families that are marked by poorer or conflict-filled relationships.68

Internationally, research has demonstrated that students who eat meals with their families more frequently are more likely to achieve high scores in reading literacy in 16 out of 21 examined countries. This relationship is more consistent than that between discussing general topics with parents and reading literacy.69

Families all around the world eat meals together, though the particular meal of importance may vary from country to country, and adolescents and their parents agree that eating together is important, although parents place more value on mealtime.70

The World Family Map presents the proportion of children who eat the main meal of the day with their families every day or almost every day as an indicator of family processes. The information for this indicator is drawn from the direct answers given by parents of 15-year-olds from a variety of countries participating in the 2012 PISA survey.

These data indicate that the percentage of 15-year-olds who frequently eat meals with their families varies widely throughout the world, ranging from 60 percent in South Korea to 94 percent in Italy, as seen in Figure 12.

WFM-Figure12_2015-01

Sources: www.worldfamilymap.org/2015/e-ppendix/figure12

In Asia, represented by South Korea and two regions in China, there is diversity in the number of teens who eat with their parents on a daily or almost daily basis. Sixty percent of teens in South Korea eat the main meal with their parents almost every day or daily, while more than 80 percent do in both Macao and Hong Kong. Around six in 10 teens (62 percent) eat the main meal of the day with their parents in South America, as represented by Chile. Rates are higher in North America and Europe, where between 67 percent (Hungary) and 94 percent (Italy) of teens eat the main meal with their parents every day or almost every day. Mexican and German teens fall in between, with 74 percent and 82 percent of teens, respectively, eating with their parents at least almost every day.

The differences in the frequency of families’ eating meals together may reflect differences in family structure, time use, proximity of work and school to home, rates of female labor-force participation, and cultural patterns.


58 For example, in Poland, only citizens were surveyed in 2002, whereas in 2012 adults of any nationality in Poland were sampled.
59 World Bank, “World Development Indicators: Labor Force Structure Table 2.2” (World Bank, 2015).
60 World Bank, “World Development Indicators: Labor Force Structure Table 2.2.”
61 B. Ebbinghaus, “Comparing Welfare State Regimes: Are Typologies an Ideal or Realistic Strategy?,” in European Social Policy Analysis Network, ESPAnet Conference (Edinburgh, UK, 2012); G. Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).
62 B. A. Hopkins, “Gender and Provisioning under Different Capitalisms,” in Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, ed. D. M. Figart and T. L. Varnecke (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013).
63 D. H. Caro, “Parent-Child Communication and Academic Performance: Associations at the within- and between-Country Level,” Journal for Educational Research Online 3, no. 2 (2011); G. Hampden-Thompson, L. Guzman, and L. Lippman, “A Cross-National Analysis of Parental Involvement and Student Literacy,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 54, no. 3 (2013).
64 The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners VI” (New York: Columbia University, 2010).
65 M. Eisenberg et al., “Correlations between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-Being among Adolescents,” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 158, no. 8 (2004); J. A. Fulkerson et al., “Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors,” Journal of Adolescent Health 39, no. 3 (2006).
66 N. Zarrett and R. Lerner, “Ways to Promote the Positive Development of Children and Youth,” in Research-to-Results Brief (Washington, DC: Child Trends, 2008).
67 K. Musick and A. Meier, “Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations between Family Dinners and Adolescent Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74, no. 3 (2012).
68 Musick and Meier, “Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations.”
69 Hampden-Thompson et al., “A Cross-National Analysis of Parental Involvement and Student Literacy.”
70 J. A. Fulkerson, D. Neumark-Sztainer, and M. Story, “Adolescent and Parent Views of Family Meals,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106, no. 4 (2006).

PRINT THE PAGE