Transitions, Trajectories or Timing? Untangling the Effects of Family Structure on Young Adults’ Attitudes toward Marriage

Kathryn Henderson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
David F. Warner, Case Western Reserve University
Glen H. Elder, Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Children of divorce experience divergent pathways from adolescence to adulthood. While some youths who experience family structure instability are at increased risk of early marriage others tend to delay or forgo marriage altogether. Most prior studies on the relationship between family instability in childhood and marriage attitudes and behaviors focus on family status at a single point in time. However, contemporary families are increasingly complex and a single snapshot of family status is insufficient to capture the heterogeneity of experiences. Therefore, in this paper we draw on a life course perspective to examine the link between young adults’ family structure history and their attitudes toward marriage, employing measures that differentiate between transitions, pathways and the timing of family structure changes. Using Addhealth data, we conclude that including varied measures of family structure history gives a more accurate understanding of the ways that family disruption in childhood affects attitudes about marriage.

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Presented in Session 124: Family Background, Cohabitation, and Marriage