Family Structure Transitions and Child Development: Instability, Type, and Selection

Dohoon Lee, New York University (NYU)
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University

Scholarship on family structure has increasingly paid attention to the importance of family instability in family wellbeing. This change in research focus reflects family change in the United States over the past five decades, epitomized as the prevalence of divorce, nonmarital childbearing and cohabitation. In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the impacts of family instability on children's cognitive and socioemotional development. Addressing both the quantity and types of transitions in family structure, this study tests the instability hypothesis against the selection hypothesis. In particular, we demonstrate that selection bias can arise not only because of time-constant confounders but also because of time-varying factors that covary with family structure transitions. Employing various analytic approaches, such as growth curve models, child fixed-effects models, and marginal structural models, this study provides a more rigorous assessment of the effects of family instability and its types on children’s developmental outcomes.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Session 15: Family Structure, Parenting, and Child Well-Being