Associations between Family Structure Changes and Children’s Behavior: The Moderating Effects of Timing and Marital Birth

Rebecca M. Ryan, Georgetown University
Amy E. Claessens, University of Chicago

The present study explores the implications of family instability for child development by investigating the conditions under which family structure changes matter most to child well-being. Using data from the Maternal and Child Supplement of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 3,492), it estimates how changes in family structure during four different developmental periods relate to concurrent and subsequent changes in children’s behavioral trajectories. We estimate associations separately for children born to married and unwed parents, or “fragile families”, to determine if family instability has different effects on children across policy-relevant family types. Results indicate that changes in family structure during the first three years influence children’s behavioral development more consistently than later changes, changes into a single-parent family have different implications than changes into a blended family, and changes in family structure matter more for children born to married parents than children in fragile families.

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Presented in Session 166: Family Structure, Timing, and Child Well-being