Children living in married parent families are less likely to live in or near poverty than children in unmarried (either single– or cohabiting) parent families. Some policy advocacy groups use this to argue that marriage is the “greatest weapon against child poverty” because of the additional economic and human capital marriage adds to a household, even though there is no clear agreement about the precise ways in which parent marital status and childhood poverty interact. In fact, critics of the marriage-as-remedy position argue that economic risk may play a part in both child poverty and in the reluctance of parents to marry. As a result, they argue that economic – not relational – measures are the keys to reducing poverty.
However, this concentrated focus on parent relationship status overlooks another form of family structure pertinent to the well-being of poor children: the residential extended family. These structures may allow families to pool economic and human resources to care for children and ameliorate the effects of tough economic circumstances. In 2011, one in ten Virginia children lived in a residential extended family.
Figure 1 — Children Living in Residential Extended Families by Type of Family