Strong families are the key to producing well adjusted and successful youngsters and the welfare state has little or no bearing on how children turn out, an international research project has found.
In fact, say the researchers, the children of married parents are likely to do better than those from broken or single-parent families – no matter how much state support the family is given.
The study singled out the British welfare state as an example of the failure of state support to make a difference to the lives and success of children.
The study carried out by researchers at two American universities examined evidence from both Britain and the US – one with a large welfare state, one without – on how the lives of children progress between the ages of five and 13.
It said there were a number of risk factors common to both countries that increased the likelihood that a child would have behavioural problems.
Boys were more likely to have difficulties than girls, health problems led to other difficulties for children, and children of divorced parents faced a greater likelihood of trouble.
In Britain, the study said, the influence of ‘family structure’ – whether a child has its two birth parents, or just one parent, or lives with a step-parent – was more important than in America.
Professor Toby Parcel of North Carolina State University said: "We found that stronger home environments – those that are intellectually stimulating, nurturing, and physically safe – decrease the likelihood of behaviour problems in both the US and Great Britain."
"We wanted to see whether the role of parents was equally important in both societies because the argument has been made that more developed welfare states, such as Great Britain, can make the role of parents less important, by providing additional supports that can help compensate for situations where households have more limited resources.
"This study tells us that parents are important in households, regardless of the strength of the welfare state."
The findings, published in the US in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.