Changes in American Families and the Growth in the Gender Gap in Early Childhood Behavioral Skills

Jayanti Owens, Princeton University

Attention, concentration, and social skills are important indicators of school readiness. Boys have long fallen behind girls in the development of these skills, but prior research has not examined whether changes in American families—namely, the rise of cohabitation and single parenting from birth, as well as the presence of a social as opposed to biological father beginning in early childhood—are associated with a growth in the gender gap in behavioral skills. This study uses two national datasets of children followed from birth to age 6 to examine how changes in family structures, parental conflict, economic resources, parenting, and child health are associated with the gender gap in behavioral development. The study finds that the gender gap in behavioral development has grown between the late 1980s and the mid-2000s, and that changes in families explain much of the growth. Implications for the gender gap in later achievement and delinquency are discussed.

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Presented in Poster Session 3