Do Family Structure Transitions Explain Race and Ethnic Differences in Academic Achievement across the Early Life Course?

Kristin E. Turney, University of Pennsylvania
Grace Kao, University of Pennsylvania

Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), we examine race and ethnic differences in the duration in a single-parent household and the timing and type of family structure transitions from kindergarten to fifth grade. In addition, we examine whether race and ethnic differences in family structure patterns and changes can explain race and ethnic differences in reading, math, and science test scores in fifth grade. We find that time spent in a single-parent household explains a substantial proportion of the association between race and test scores. Transitions are associated with lower test scores and earlier transitions seem to have a greater impact on achievement than later transitions. Finally, making a positive transition, compared to experiencing a parental divorce, is not associated with better test scores. Overall, our findings suggest that changes in household structure may be important in understanding the lower academic achievement of Black and Hispanic young children.

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Presented in Session 140: Inequalities in Early Education