, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 513–540 | Cite as

Family Structure Experiences and Child Socioemotional Development During the First Nine Years of Life: Examining Heterogeneity by Family Structure at Birth



A vast amount of literature has documented negative associations between family instability and child development, with the largest associations being in the socioemotional (behavioral) domain. Yet, prior work has paid limited attention to differentiating the role of the number, types, and sequencing of family transitions that children experience, as well as to understanding potential heterogeneity in these associations by family structure at birth. We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and hierarchical linear models to examine associations of family structure states and transitions with children’s socioemotional development during the first nine years of life. We pay close attention to the type and number of family structure transitions experienced and examine whether associations differ depending on family structure at birth. For children born to cohabiting or noncoresident parents, we find little evidence that subsequent family structure experiences are associated with socioemotional development. For children born to married parents, we find associations between family instability and poorer socioemotional development. However, this largely reflects the influence of parental breakup; we find little evidence that socioemotional trajectories differ for children with various family structure experiences subsequent to their parents’ breakup.


Family structure Family instability Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study Repartnering Child well-being 



The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is funded by NICHD grant numbers R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations and other government agencies. This research was supported by NICHD Grant No. K01HD054421 (to Berger) and by the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research Program (for Bzostek), as well as by funding from the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Waisman Center (NICHD Grant No. P30 HD03352) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. We are grateful to Anne Solaz, Laurent Toulemon, seminar participants at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (Institut national d'études démographiques; INED), and participants at the 2012 American Sociological Association and 2013 Population Association of America annual meetings for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, RutgersThe State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Research on Poverty and School of Social WorkUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

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