pp 1–29 | Cite as

Multiple-Partner Fertility and Cohort Change in the Prevalence of Half-Siblings

  • Mariana AmorimEmail author
  • Laura M. Tach


The transformation of the American family under the second demographic transition has created more opportunities for parents to have children with multiple partners, but data limitations have hampered prevalence estimates of multiple-partner fertility from the perspective of children. This study uses nationally representative data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth to examine cohort change in children’s exposure to multiple-partner fertility. We find that one in five children in the 1979 cohort had at least one half-sibling by their 18th birthday, and the prevalence grew to more than one in four children by the 1997 cohort. A strong educational gradient in exposure to half-siblings persists across both cohorts, but large racial/ethnic disparities have narrowed over time. Using demographic decomposition techniques, we find that change in the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic composition of the U.S. population cannot explain the growth in exposure to half-siblings. We conclude by discussing the shifting patterns of fertility and family formation associated with sibling complexity and considering the implications for child development and social stratification.


Family structure Fertility Children and youth Demographic change 



We would like to thank Kelly Musick, Vida Maralani, Megan Sweeney, Elizabeth Wildsmith, and anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on earlier versions of this article. This work was supported by the William T. Grant Foundation.

Supplementary material

13524_2019_820_MOESM1_ESM.docx (50 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 50 kb)


  1. Amato, P. R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. Future of Children, 15(2), 75–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 650–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersson, G., Thomson, E., & Duntava, A. (2017). Life-table representations of family dynamics in the 21st century. Demographic Research, 37, 1081–1230. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andridge, R. R., & Little, R. J. A. (2010). A review of hot deck imputation for survey non-response. International Statistical Review, 78, 40–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beer, W. R. (1989). Strangers in the house: The world of stepsiblings and half-siblings. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Bloome, D. (2017). Childhood family structure and intergenerational income mobility in the United States. Demography, 54, 541–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bramlett, M. D., & Mosher, W. D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the United States (Vital Health Statistics Series 23, No. 22). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  8. Bronte-Tinkew, J., Horowitz, A., & Scott, M. E. (2009). Fathering with multiple partners: Links to children’s well-being in early childhood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 608–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burton, L. M., Cherlin, A., Winn, D.-M., Estacion, A., & Holder-Taylor, C. (2009). The role of trust in low-income mothers’ intimate unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 1107–1124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cancian, M., & Meyer, D. R. (2011). Who owes what to whom? Child support policy given multiple-partner fertility. Social Service Review, 85, 587–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cancian, M., Meyer, D. R., & Cook, S. T. (2011). The evolution of family complexity from the perspective of nonmarital children. Demography, 48, 957–982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carlson, M. J., & Furstenberg F. F., Jr. (2006). The prevalence and correlates of multipartnered fertility among urban U.S. parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 718–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carlson, M. J., & Meyer, D. R. (2014). Family complexity: Setting the context. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 6–11.Google Scholar
  14. Cavanagh, S. E., & Huston, A. C. (2006). Family instability and children’s early problem behavior. Social Forces, 85, 551–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cavanagh, S. E., & Huston, A. C. (2008). The timing of family instability and children’s social development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 1258–1270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cherlin, A. (1978). Remarriage as an incomplete institution. American Journal of Sociology, 84, 634–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cherlin, A. (2014). Labor’s love lost: The rise and fall of the working-class family in America (1st ed.). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  18. Cherlin, A. J., & Seltzer, J. A. (2014). Family complexity, the family safety net, and public policy. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 231–239.Google Scholar
  19. Clayton, O., Mincy, R. B., & Blakenhorn, D. (Eds.). (2003). Black fathers in contemporary American society: Strengths, weaknesses, and strategies for change. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  20. Dorius, C. (2012). New approaches to measuring multipartnered fertility over the life course (PRC Research Report No. 12-769). Ann Arbor: Population Studies Center, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  21. Dorius, C., & Guzzo, K. B. (2013). The long arm of maternal multipartnered fertility and adolescent well-being (NCFMR Working Paper No. 13-04). Bowling Green, OH: National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Retrieved from
  22. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. J. (2011). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  23. Evenhouse, E., & Reilly, S. (2010). Women’s multiple-partner fertility in the United States: Prevalence, correlates and trends, 1985–2008 (MPRA Paper No. 26867). Munich: University Library of Munich, Germany. Retrieved from
  24. Fairlie, R. W. (1999). The absence of the African-American owned business: An analysis of the dynamics of self-employment. Journal of Labor Economics, 17, 80–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fairlie, R. W. (2005). An extension of the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition technique to logit and probit models. Journal of Economic and Social Measurement, 30, 305–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Finer, L. B. (2007). Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954–2003. Public Health Reports, 122, 73–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fomby, P., & Cherlin, A. J. (2007). Family instability and child well-being. American Sociological Review, 72, 181–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fomby, P., Goode, J. A., & Mollborn, S. (2016). Family complexity, siblings, and children’s aggressive behavior at school entry. Demography, 53, 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fomby, P., & Osborne, C. (2016). Family instability, multipartner fertility, and behavior in middle childhood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 75–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Furstenberg, F. F. (2014). Fifty years of family change: From consensus to complexity. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 12–30.Google Scholar
  31. Gardeazabal, J., & Ugidos, A. (2005). Gender wage discrimination at quantiles. Journal of Population Economics, 18, 165–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gennetian, L. A. (2005). One or two parents? Half or step siblings? The effect of family structure on young children’s achievement. Journal of Population Economics, 18, 415–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gibson-Davis, C. M. (2009). Money, marriage, and children: Testing the financial expectations and family formation theory. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 146–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ginther, D. K., & Pollak, R. A. (2004). Family structure and children’s educational outcomes: Blended families, stylized facts, and descriptive regressions. Demography, 41, 671–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grall, T. (2013). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2011 (Current Population Reports P60-246). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  36. Guzzo, K. B. (2014). New partners, more kids: Multiple-partner fertility in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 66–86.Google Scholar
  37. Guzzo, K. B., & Dorius, C. (2016). Challenges in measuring and studying multipartnered fertility in American survey data. Population Research and Policy Review, 35, 553–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Guzzo, K. B., & Furstenberg, F. F. (2007). Multipartnered fertility among American men. Demography, 44, 583–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Guzzo, K. B., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2007). Multipartnered fertility among young women with a nonmarital first birth: Prevalence and risk factors. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 39, 29–38. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Guzzo, K. B., & Hayford, S. R. (2012). Unintended fertility and the stability of coresidential relationships. Social Science Research, 41, 1138–1151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Halpern-Meekin, S., & Tach, L. (2008). Heterogeneity in two-parent families and adolescent well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 435–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hamilton, B. E., & Cosgrove, C. M. (2010). Cohort fertility tables for all, white, and black women: United States, 1960–2005 [Internet tables]. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Available from
  43. Harcourt, K. T., Adler-Baeder, F., Erath, S., & Pettit, G. S. (2015). Examining family structure and half-sibling influence on adolescent well-being. Journal of Family Issues, 36, 250–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hayford, S. R. (2013). Marriage (still) matters: The contribution of demographic change to trends in childlessness in the United States. Demography, 50, 1641–1661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jann, B. (2008). A Stata implementation of Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition. Stata Journal, 8, 453–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Joyner, K., Peters, H. E., Hynes, K., Sikora, A., Taber, J. R., & Rendall, M. S. (2012). The quality of male fertility data in major U.S. surveys. Demography, 49, 101–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kearney, M. S., & Levine, P. B. (2015). Investigating recent trends in the U.S. teen birth rate. Journal of Health Economics, 41, 15–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kennedy, S., & Bumpass, L. L. (2008). Cohabitation and children’s living arrangements: New estimates from the United States. Demographic Research, 19, 1663–1692. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kirmeyer, S. E., & Hamilton, B. E. (2011). Transitions between childlessness and first birth: Three generations of U.S. women (Vital and Health Statistics Series 2, No. 153). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  50. Klerman, L. V. (2007). Multipartnered fertility: Can it be reduced? Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 39, 56–59. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Langton, C. E., & Berger, L. M. (2011). Family structure and adolescent physical health, behavior, and emotional well-being. Social Service Review, 85, 323–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lappegård, T., & Thomson, E. (2018). Intergenerational transmission of multipartner fertility. Demography, 55, 2205–2228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lee, D., & McLanahan, S. (2015). Family structure transitions and child development: Instability, selection, and population heterogeneity. American Sociological Review, 80, 738–763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lesthaeghe, R. (1995). The second demographic transition in Western countries: An interpretation. In K. O. Manson & A.-M. Jensen (Eds.), Gender and family change in industrialized countries (pp. 17–62). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Lesthaeghe, R. J., & Neidert, L. (2006). The second demographic transition in the United States: Exception or textbook example? Population and Development Review, 32, 669–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lichter, D. T., LeClere, F. B., & McLaughlin, D. K. (1991). Local marriage markets and the marital behavior of black and white women. American Journal of Sociology, 96, 843–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mander, A., & Clayton, D. (2007). HOTDECK: Stata module to impute missing values using the hotdeck method [Statistical Software Components S366901]. Boston, MA: Economics Department, Boston College. Retrieved from
  58. Manlove, J., Logan, C., Ikramullah, E., & Holcombe, E. (2008). Factors associated with multiple-partner fertility among fathers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 536–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Manlove, J., Ryan, S., Wildsmith, E., & Franzetta, K. (2010). The relationship context of nonmarital childbearing in the U.S. Demographic Research, 23, 615–653. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Manning, W. D., Brown, S. L., & Stykes, J. B. (2014). Family complexity among children in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 48–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Manning, W. D., & Smock, P. J. (1999). New families and nonresident father-child visitation. Social Forces, 78, 87–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Manning, W. D., & Smock, P. J. (2000). “Swapping” families: Serial parenting and economic support for children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 111–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Manning, W. D., Smock, P. J., & Majumdar, D. (2004). The relative stability of cohabiting and marital unions for children. Population Research and Policy Review, 23, 135–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. McLanahan, S. (2009). Fragile families and the reproduction of poverty. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621, 111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. McLanahan, S., & Beck, A. N. (2010). Parental relationships in fragile families. Future of Children, 20(2), 17–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. McLanahan, S., & Jacobsen, W. (2014). Diverging destinies revisited. In P. R. Amato, A. Booth, S. M. McHale, & J. Van Hook (Eds.), Families in an era of increasing inequality: Diverging destinies (pp. 3–23). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  68. McLanahan, S., & Percheski, C. (2008). Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 257–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. D. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Meyer, D., Skinner, C., & Davidson, J. (2011). Complex families and equality in child support obligations: A comparative policy analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1804–1812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Monte, L. (2017). Multiple partner fertility research brief (Current Population Reports P70BR-146). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  72. Oaxaca, R. (1973). Male-female wage differentials in urban labor markets. International Economic Review, 14, 693–709.Google Scholar
  73. Oaxaca, R. L., & Ransom, M. R. (1994). On discrimination and the decomposition of wage differentials. Journal of Econometrics, 61, 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Osborne, C., Berger, L. M., & Magnuson, K. (2012). Family structure transitions and changes in maternal resources and well-being. Demography, 49, 23–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Patterson, O. (1998). Rituals of blood: Consequences of slavery in two American centuries. New York, NY: Basic Civitas.Google Scholar
  76. Raley, R. K., & Bumpass, L. L. (2003). The topography of the divorce plateau: Levels and trends in union stability in the United States after 1980. Demographic Research, 8, 245–260. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Raley, R. K., Durden, T. E., & Wildsmith, E. (2004). Understanding Mexican-American marriage patterns using a life-course approach. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 872–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Raley, R. K., Sweeney, M. M., & Wondra, D. (2015). The growing racial and ethnic divide in U.S. marriage patterns. Future of Children, 25(2), 89–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Rendall, M. S., Clarke, L., Peters, H. E., Ranjit, N., & Verropoulou, G. (1999). Incomplete reporting of men’s fertility in the United States and Britain: A research note. Demography, 36, 135–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sanner, C., Russell, L. T., Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (2018). Half-sibling and stepsibling relationships: A systematic integrative review. Journal of Family Theory & Research, 10, 765–784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Scott, M. E., Peterson, K., Ikramullah, E., & Manlove, J. (2013). Multiple partner fertility among unmarried nonresident fathers. In N. Cabrera & C. S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 97–116). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  82. Smock, P. J., & Greenland, F. R. (2010). Diversity in pathways to parenthood: Patterns, implications, and emerging research directions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 576–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sobotka, T. (2008). Overview chapter 6: The diverse faces of the second demographic transition in Europe. Demographic Research, 19, 171–224. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Stack, C. B. (1974). All our kin: Strategies for survival in a black community. New York, NY: Harper Row.Google Scholar
  85. Stewart, S. D. (2005). Boundary ambiguity in stepfamilies. Journal of Family Issues, 26, 1002–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Stewart, S. D. (2006). Brave new stepfamilies: Diverse paths toward stepfamily living. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  87. Stykes, J. B., & Guzzo, K. B. (2019). Multiple-partner fertility: Variation across measurement approaches. In R. Schoen (Ed.), Analytical family demography (pp. 215–239). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Sweeney, M. M. (2010). Remarriage and stepfamilies: Strategic sites for family scholarship in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 667–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Sweeney, M. M., & Raley, R. K. (2014). Race, ethnicity, and the changing context of childbearing in the United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 40, 539–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tach, L., Mincy, R., & Edin, K. (2010). Parenting as a “package deal”: Relationships, fertility, and nonresident father involvement among unmarried parents. Demography, 47, 181–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thomson, E., Lappegard, T., Carlson, M., Evans, A., & Gray, E. (2014). Childbearing across partnerships in Australia, the United States, Norway, and Sweden. Demography, 51, 485–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Tucker, M. B. (2000). Marital values and expectations in context: Results from a 21-city survey. In L. J. Waite (Ed.), The ties that bind (pp. 166–187). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  94. Ventura, S. J. (2009). Changing patterns of nonmarital childbearing in the United States (NCHS Data Brief No. 18). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  95. Ventura, S. J., & Bachrach, C. A. (2000). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States, 1940–99 (National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 48, No. 16). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  96. Yun, M.-S. (2004). Decomposing differences in the first moment. Economics Letters, 82, 275–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Yun, M.-S. (2005). Normalized equation and decomposition analysis: Computation and inference (IZA Discussion Paper No. 1822). Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Policy Analysis and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations