Family Instability, Selection, and Child Well-Being in Middle Childhood

Shannon E. Cavanagh, University of Texas at Austin

The structure of American families has undergone dramatic change over the past 60 years. These changes have translated into more dynamic romantic relationship histories for adults and more complex living arrangements for their children. An emerging literature has documented this instability and identified a link between family structure instability and child well-being. What remains less clear is why this linkage exists. Is it the actual experience of family instability, characteristics of the mother that select children into these family structures, or a combination of both? Moreover, what mechanisms explain why family instability and selection contribute to compromised child well-being? This paper addresses these questions using a sample drawn from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), a large-scale prospective study that follows children from birth to early adolescence and has incomparable data on children and their parents, including at least twice yearly reports on household composition.

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Presented in Session 91: Family Dynamics, Race/Ethnicity, and Early Child Wellbeing