, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 525–548 | Cite as

Changes in Household Composition and Children’s Educational Attainment

  • Kristin L. PerkinsEmail author


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.


Children 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.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Joint Center for Housing StudiesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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