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Family Complexity, Siblings, and Children’s Aggressive Behavior at School Entry

Abstract

As family structure in the United States has become increasingly dynamic and complex, children have become more likely to reside with step- or half-siblings through a variety of pathways. When these pathways are accounted for, more than one in six U.S. children live with a step- or half-sibling at age 4. We use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (N ~ 6,550) to assess the independent and joint influences of residing with a single parent or stepparent and with step- or half-siblings on children’s aggressive behavior at school entry. The influences of parents’ union status and complex sibship status on aggressive behavior are independent. Family resources partially explain the association between residing with an unpartnered mother and aggressive behavior regardless of sibship status. However, the resource hypothesis does not explain the association of complex sibship with aggressive behavior.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Our estimates from the ECLS-B indicate that about 20 % of children ever lived with a stepsibling or half-sibling by age 4.

  2. 2.

    The ECLS-B restricted-use license requires reporting analytic sample sizes rounded to the nearest 50.

  3. 3.

    We use the term “union status” throughout to refer to whether a child’s mother is unpartnered, partnered with the child’s biological father, or partnered with another (male) adult. Because of sample size limitations, we are not able to account for marital status and the partner’s biological relatedness to the focal child simultaneously (but see the discussion of supplementary models). We use the word “stepfather” here to represent marital and cohabiting unions between mothers and new partners.

  4. 4.

    Because selection into complex sibship preceded the focal child’s birth in many cases, resource measures from after the birth are not appropriate for capturing resource-based selection into complex families. We tested mediation of the family structure/aggressive behavior relationships according to Baron and Kenny (1986).

  5. 5.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends fewer than two hours of television viewing per day for young children (https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx). Results were similar using two hours or four hours as the cutpoint for intensive television viewing.

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Acknowledgments

This research is based on work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES 1061058). Research funds were also provided by the NIH/NICHD-funded CU Population Center (R24HD066613). We thank Laura Tach and four anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on previous versions of this manuscript. All errors and omissions are the responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Paula Fomby.

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Fomby, P., Goode, J.A. & Mollborn, S. Family Complexity, Siblings, and Children’s Aggressive Behavior at School Entry. Demography 53, 1–26 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-015-0443-9

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Keywords

  • Family complexity
  • Union status
  • Siblings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Early childhood