Family Environment Affects Health of Family Members

For Immediate Release

Contact: (301) 436-7551

10-195. Health and Selected Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Family: United States, 1988-90. 85 pp. (PHS) 97-1523. GPO stock number 017-022-01361-4 price $10.00 [PDF – 653 KB]

A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examines the relationship between health status and family characteristics and finds that such family traits as education, income, marital status, and family size have an important impact on the health of family members. In general, the report found that people living with a spouse, children in two-parent households, and those in families with higher education and income were the healthiest.

“Health and Selected Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Family: United States, 1988-90” is a comprehensive analysis of 11 separate health variables, from the extent of disability to the incidence of acute conditions. While other NCHS reports–some using later data–have examined one or more family traits by selected health outcomes, this is the first report to cover many health traits and an array of health status indicators. Highlights of the report show:

  • Married men and women in all age groups are less likely to be limited in activity due to illness than single, separated, divorced, or widowed individuals. Middle-aged adults who live alone have higher rates of doctor visits, acute conditions, and short- and long-term disability.
  • Children living with a single parent or adult report a higher prevalence of activity limitation and higher rates of disability. They are also more likely to be in fair or poor health and more likely to have been hospitalized.
  • Never-married persons under 25 years of age living with both parents had lower than average levels of activity limitation, fair or poor health, and hospitalization in direct contrast to never-married persons living with their mother.
  • Children living in the poorest families report a higher level of activity limitation, poor or fair health, and hospitalization than those in families with higher incomes.
  • Adults show a similar impact of income with those in the poorest families more likely to have activity limitations, poor or fair health status, bed disability, acute conditions, and hospitalization.
  • Children under 18 years of age report higher rates of hospitalization where the responsible family member had less than 12 years of education than in families where the responsible adult was better educated.

Marital status, income, and education may affect health characteristics in several ways. Higher income and education may provide family members with more knowledge of good health habits and better access to health and preventive services. Persons living with a spouse are likely to have better health profiles because of lifestyle differences (such as better eating habits, someone to share a problem) and higher incomes.

The report includes these health indexes: percent limited in activity; percent with fair or poor respondent-assessed health status; restricted activity days; bed disability days; work-loss days and school-loss days; percent with a physician contact in the past year; number of annual physician contacts per person; percent with a hospital episode in the past year; days per short-term hospital stay; and incidence of acute conditions.

Data in the report “Health and Selected Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Family: United States, 1988-90,” by John Gary Collins and Felicia B. LeClere, are based on household interviews with a sample of the Nation’s civilian, noninstitutionalized population.

For more information or for a copy of this report, contact the NCHS Public Affairs Office (301) 458-4800 or by e-mail at: A copy of the full report can be viewed or downloaded from the NCHS home page.