Changes in Household Composition and Children’s Educational Attainment
- 301 Downloads
Changes in parental romantic relationships are an important component of family instability, but children are exposed to many other changes in the composition of their households that bear on child well-being. Prior research that focused on parental transitions has thus overlooked a substantial source of instability in children’s lives. I argue that the instability in children’s residential arrangements is characterized by household instability rather than family instability. To evaluate this thesis, I use the 1968–2015 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and time-varying methods for causal inference to test the independent effects of different types of changes in household composition on educational attainment. Experiencing changes involving nonparent, nonsibling household members has a significant negative effect on educational attainment that is similar in magnitude to that for children who experience changes involving residential parents. Measures of parental changes miss the nearly 20 % of children who experience changes involving household members other than parents or siblings. By showing that changes in nonparental household members are both common and consequential experiences for children, I demonstrate the value of conceptualizing the changes to which children are exposed as a product of household instability, rather than simply family instability.
KeywordsChildren Family instability Households Educational attainment Race
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Chicago, IL. For excellent comments and guidance, I gratefully acknowledge Kathryn Edin, Alexandra Killewald, Ann Owens, Robert J. Sampson, Daniel Schneider, and Bruce Western. Matthew Arck helped with formatting. Any errors are my own. This research was supported by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University and a Harvard University grant from the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy. The collection of Panel Study of Income Dynamics data used in this study was party supported by the National Institutes of Health under Grant No. R01 HD069609 and the National Science Foundation under Award No. 1157698.
- Brand, J. E., Moore, R., Song, X., & Xie, Y. (2017). Unequal families, unequal effects: How parental divorce differentially impacts children’s educational attainment (UCLA California Center for Population Research Working Paper No. PWP-CCPR-2017-010). Los Angeles: University of California.Google Scholar
- Copen, C. E., Daniels, K., Vespa, J., & Mosher, W. D. (2012). First marriages in the United States: Data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth (National Health Statistics Reports No. 49). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
- Duncan, G. J., & Murnane, R. J. (Eds.) (2011). Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances. New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
- Freudenberg, N., & Ruglis, J. (2007). Reframing school dropout as a public health issue. Preventing Chronic Disease, 4(4), A107. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2007/oct/07_0063.htm
- Harvey, H. (2015, August). When mothers can’t “pay the cost to be the boss”: Roles and identity within doubled-up households. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
- Lee, D., & McLanahan, S. (2015). Family structure transitions and child development: Instability, selection, and population heterogeneity. American Sociological Review, 80, 738–763.Google Scholar
- McLanahan, S. (2011). Family instability and complexity after a nonmarital birth: Outcomes for children in fragile families. In M. J. Carlson & P. England (Eds.), Social class and changing families in an unequal America (pp. 108–133). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Panel Study of Income Dynamics. (2017). Public use dataset. Ann Arbor, MI: Produced and distributed by the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
- Vespa, J., Lewis, J. M., & Kreider, R. M. (2013). America’s families and living arrangements: 2012 (Report No. P20-570). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar