Life Satisfaction Among Children in Different Family Structures: A Comparative Study of 36 Western Societies


Correspondence to:Thoroddur Bjarnason, Department of Social Science, University of Akureyri, 600 Akureyri, Iceland. E-mail:


This paper examines differences in life satisfaction among children in different family structures in 36 western, industrialised countries (n = 184 496). Children living with both biological parents reported higher levels of life satisfaction than children living with a single parent or parent–step-parent. Children in joint physical custody reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than their counterparts in other types of non-intact families. Controlling perceived family affluence, the difference between joint physical custody families and single mother or mother–stepfather families became non-significant. Difficulties in communicating with parents were strongly associated with less life satisfaction but did not mediate the relation between family structure and life satisfaction. Children in the Nordic countries characterised by strong welfare systems reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction in all living arrangements except in single father households. Differences in economic inequality between countries moderated the association between certain family structures, perceived family affluence and life satisfaction.