Family structure and young adult health outcomes
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Previous research finds adverse effects of nontraditional family structures on cognitive and educational outcomes, but less is known about potential impacts on health. We use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine two health statuses (self-reported overall health and depression) and one health behavior (smoking), estimating both static logit models of point-in-time health and discrete-time hazard models of health transitions. Overall, we find adverse associations between nontraditional family structures and health statuses and behavior. There are long-lasting associations of family structure with outcomes well into adulthood, not all of which are evident in adolescence. Dynamic estimates often inform but also provide new information not seen in the static model. “Unpacking” the family structure variables by period of childhood provides insight into how the timing of family break-ups affects the life trajectories of health and health behavior. Our findings differ remarkably by gender. Girls’ health appears more sensitive to family structure than boys’. In combination with prior findings in the literature, our findings intriguingly suggest that family break-ups and changes affect boys mostly through cognitive, educational, and emotional channels, while girls are most affected in their health and health behaviors. A major methodological contribution of this study is better measurement of family structure. We find that many adverse associations are masked by cruder measures in typical use.
KeywordsFamily structure Adolescent health Discrete-time hazard models National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health
JEL ClassificationI12 J12
The authors would like to thank Craig Gundersen and Paul McNamara for helpful comments and suggestions. Carl Nelson’s assistance with data manipulation and retrieval was invaluable. All responsibility for errors rests with the authors. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.
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