Health and Social Stratification in Family Formation Pathways

Brandon Wagner, Princeton University
Kathleen Mullan Harris, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Health, as an individual resource, is an important component of social stratification processes through its influence on relationship entry and family formation. Using a recent cohort of young women in the nationally representative Add Health Study, we focus on how pre-union and pre-conception health in early adolescence arranges pathways of family formation, with consequences for subsequent adulthood health. We find individuals in better health during adolescence are more likely to follow a “traditional” marriage pathways and less likely to have non-marital births (either cohabiting or non-residential) than those in poorer health. Family formation pathways have dramatic and additive effects on future health as well, with health benefits associated with the traditional marriage pathway and health costs associated with non-residential non-marital childbirth. These findings highlight a non-economic means by which individuals accumulate advantage; health-advantaged women follow more traditional family formation pathways than their health-disadvantaged counterparts, leading to greater later life health disparities.

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Presented in Session 132: Families Health and Well-Being