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Changes in Household Composition and Children’s Educational Attainment

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. I can observe children who enter the survey between 1968 and 1980 every year given the PSID’s annual data collection from 1968 until 1997. I include in my sample children who entered the survey after 1980 and remained in the survey until age 17, but I do not observe them every year because the PSID switched to biennial data collection in 1997. I use four logistic regression models to predict the four mutually exclusive types of household change rather than a multinomial logistic regression model because the multinomial model does not allow me to account for the variation in the length of time between observations (annual vs. biennial) both within children and between children in my prediction models; specifically, Stata does not allow the use of the offset option in multinomial models to account for different exposure time. Using a multinomial logistic regression model produces similar results (available upon request).

  2. The unstabilized IPT weights that I estimate range from 1.21 to 1.15 × 1016 (with a standard deviation of 1.46 × 1014), whereas the stabilized weights range from 0.002 to 1.92 × 108 (SD = 2,372,773). This range demonstrates that the stabilized weights include both very small and very large numbers, so for analysis, I truncate the weights at the 5th and 95th percentile, resulting in a stabilized weight that ranges from 0.10 to 2.34 (SD = 0.54).

  3. Although 7 % of children in this category experienced changes involving only cohabiting partners of parents, 8 % of children in this category experienced at least one change involving a cohabiting partner of a parent. Thus, 92 % of children in this nonparent, nonsibling change category experienced a change involving an extended family member or nonrelative who is not a cohabiting partner of a parent. Among the 788 children who experienced changes involving both parents and other household members, 27 % experienced at least one change involving a cohabiting partner of a parent. Cohabiting partners of parents are thus not responsible for the majority of nonparent changes to which children are exposed. Cohabiting partners are not even responsible for most changes involving nonrelatives. Fewer than one-half of the nonrelative changes experienced by children entering the survey after 1983 involved cohabiting partners.

  4. These predicted probabilities are calculated using the Stata margins command with estimates from the stabilized IPT–weighted outcome model and interacting category of household change with race (white vs. black).

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Acknowledgments

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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Perkins, K.L. Changes in Household Composition and Children’s Educational Attainment. Demography 56, 525–548 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0757-5

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Keywords

  • Children
  • Family instability
  • Households
  • Educational attainment
  • Race