Don't stay together for the kids, rowing parents told

Children's Society finds that family conflict is the biggest source of misery

Quarrelling parents who stay together for the sake of the children may make their offspring more unhappy than those who split up, the first comprehensive study of child happiness suggests today.

Children's happiness is far more affected by family conflict than by factors such as living in a single parent household, according to the research by the Children's Society.

Young people who reported that their family "gets along well together" are on average 20 per cent happier than those who do not, regardless of whether they live with a single parent, a step-parent or both their birth parents, the study found.

The impact of family conflict on children's happiness far outstripped family structure, with a child in a lone parent household just 2 per cent unhappier than one living with both birth parents. Children were on average 10 per cent more unhappy in the immediate aftermath of a family break-up or another change in family structure such as gaining a step-parent.

But after a year happiness levels then recovered to almost the same levels as for children who had experienced no family problems.

The findings come as both Labour and the Conservatives have put family policy at the heart of their pre-general election campaign skirmishes. David Cameron has pledged to make tax breaks for married couples an important part of his plans to tackle Britain's "broken society".

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, has agreed with the Tories that marriage was "the best way to bring up children" but argued the tax break would punish many good parents and stigmatise their children.

The study of nearly 7,000 children, carried out with the University of York, found the vast majority were happy, placing themselves above the mid-point measure on a happiness scale ranked from one to 10. But 7 per cent of children were unhappy – or two in every class, according to interviews with 6,744 children in the final year of primary school and years 8 and 10 of secondary school.

The 7 per cent of "significantly" unhappy children amounted to 140,000 out of the 1.8 million children in the three year groups, or 300,000 if all 10- to 15-year-olds were counted, the charity said.

Appearance was the biggest source of unhappiness for children, with girls twice as likely as boys to worry about their looks.

Overall 17.5 per cent of children said they were unhappy with their appearance. But the research found that 22 per cent – more than one in five – of girls were unhappy with their looks compared to 13 per cent of boys.

Unhappiness with appearance grew as children got older, the survey found, peaking at 28 per cent for 14- and 15-year-old girls – or more than one in four. By contrast, young black African, Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi children were "significantly" happier with their appearance than white children, the research found.

The survey, carried out by Ipsos Mori between April and July 2008, asked children to give a score out of 10 on a happiness scale to a series of aspects of their lives. The highest average marks – of nearly nine out of 10 – were given for happiness with home, friends and family.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "It is a major concern that two children in every classroom are unhappy, and that so many are insecure about their appearance and confidence."

Case study: 'I think I'm a lot happier now'

Brittainy Benjamin, 12, from Hackney, east London, agrees that a family break-up can be better in the long run for children. She said: "It did make me feel unhappy when my mum and dad used to argue. Now it's stopped because my dad doesn't live with us anymore. I think I am a lot happier now there isn't any arguing at home. I do miss my dad but I think it is better now that there isn't any arguing. I like being with my mum and brothers and sisters when we're playing games at home and nobody is arguing. Arguing makes children feel unhappy." Brittainy said she was happy with her appearance, but that many of her friends were concerned about not matching up to the glamorous images of celebrities in magazines. "I feel happy about the way I look, but some of my friends do worry about their appearance. Sometimes if they are wearing something, they like it but they worry whether everyone else likes it. I think girls worry a lot about making a good impression."

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Commercial Property

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

    Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

    £180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

    Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

    £200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

    Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices