Family Instability and Children’s Socio-Emotional and Cognitive Development at School Entry

Carey E Cooper, Princeton University
Cynthia A. Osborne, University of Texas at Austin
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University

To better understand the gap in children's readiness for Kindergarten, we use data from 4 waves of the Fragile Families Study to examine the association between maternal partnership instability and children’s behavioral problems at school entry (age 5). We use more detailed measures of partnership changes than have been used in prior studies to determine whether any change, the number of changes, or the type of partnership change that a child is exposed to between birth and age 5 has a stronger effect on child behavior. In addition, we use OLS and fixed-effects methods to examine the extent to which co-occurring changes in maternal stress, mothering, health and health behaviors, and economic resources mediate the association between partnership instability and child behavioral problems. Finally, we explore whether the effect of partnership instability is similar across all socioeconomic groups, defined by family structure at child’s birth, race/ethnicity, and maternal education level.

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Presented in Session 110: Family Structure Transitions and Child Well-Being