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Laurie DeRose: The World Family Map Project

The World Family Map Project investigates what makes families strong

Sociologist Laurie DeRose is the research director for the World Family Map Project, which monitors family indicators and investigates how family characteristics affect children’s healthy development around the globe. The aim of the project is to provide data about key factors affecting child and family well-being so that policymakers can make decisions that support strong families and positive outcomes for children.

The World Family Map Project has researched what kinds of family structures foster good health and educational outcomes for children worldwide. Dr. DeRose and her colleagues found that in many parts of the world, family instability is associated with higher levels of serious child health outcomes such as diarrhea, poor growth, and child mortality. Regardless of the exact shape of the family, children are more likely to remain healthy when they live in a family without union transitions.

Dr. DeRose also found that, contrary to expectations, children living with only their mothers in poorer countries rarely had worse educational outcomes. In poorer countries, single mothers were often living in urban and other relatively advantaged communities, and their children had high rates of school attendance. In addition, many absent fathers were still married to the children’s mothers. Remittances sent home by absent fathers may be enabling mothers and their children to live in better areas and access better schools. In some contexts, absent fathers may actually be giving their children an educational advantage.

DeRose’s next project, together with Fran Goldscheider, is to learn how family structure and labor arrangements affect family satisfaction. How satisfied are people with their family lives? Are couples who follow a more egalitarian mode of work happier than those who have more traditional arrangements? DeRose is studying the division of labor for families in thirty-seven economically advanced countries where both men and women have relatively high levels of education. She plans to compare family structure and household work arrangements against men’s and women’s reported levels of family satisfaction general happiness, measured on seven-point Likert scales.

DeRose hypothesizes that families with one primary breadwinner (male or female) may be less happy than those with an egalitarian division of labor in which men and women share work responsibilities more equally or those with a neo-traditional division of labor where women work part-time. But there may be variation between countries in which labor arrangements promote satisfaction. “Context matters,” says Dr. DeRose. “Families aren’t strong or weak in vacuums.” The sorts of family structures and labor arrangements that work well in one part of the world may not work as well in another. Those sorts of differences and similarities are what this project hopes to illuminate.

Knowing what strengthens families can help inform policy, says Dr. DeRose. The World Family Map Project aims to aid policymakers in making solid, evidence-decisions about the factors that lead to better outcomes for families and children worldwide.

Learn more about the World Family Map Project