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Cumulative Effects of Doubling Up in Childhood on Young Adult Outcomes

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Demography

Abstract

Living in a doubled-up, or shared, household is a common experience. Nearly one-half of children in the United States double up at some point during childhood, yet we know little about the cumulative effects of these households on children. This study estimates the effects on young adult health and educational attainment of childhood years spent in three doubled-up household types: (1) those formed with children’s grandparent(s), (2) those formed with children’s adult sibling(s), and (3) those formed with other extended family or non-kin adults. Using marginal structural models and inverse probability of treatment weighting—methods that account for the fact that household composition is both a cause and consequence of other family characteristics—I find that doubling up shapes children’s life chances, but the effects vary depending on children’s relationships with household members. Childhood years spent living with nongrandparent extended family or non-kin adults are associated with worse young adult outcomes, but coresidence with grandparents is not significantly associated with young adult outcomes after selection into these households is accounted for, and coresidence with adult siblings may be beneficial in some domains. By studying the effects of coresidence with adults beyond the nuclear family, this research contributes to a fuller understanding of the implications of family complexity for children.

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Notes

  1. The annual/biennial survey design is a limitation of this analysis. Assuming that children are not doubled up in years when there is no survey unless their household type is the same is the previous and subsequent surveys produces substantively similar results. Using only biennial data produces similar results for multigenerational and extended kin/non-kin households but no significant associations between adult sibling households and young adult outcomes.

  2. The limitations section and section 4 of the online appendix discuss how the results change with age cutoffs of 24 and 18, respectively.

  3. The annual/biennial surveys likely miss some short-term doubled-up households. By excluding shorter-duration households, I may underestimate the average total number of years spent doubled up. Alternatively, by assuming that each spell lasts at least a full year, I may overestimate these averages.

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Acknowledgments

I received helpful feedback on this project from Alexandra Killewald, Devah Pager, Kathryn Edin, Mario Small, Brielle Bryan, Alexandra Feldberg, Barbara Kiviat, Katherine Morris, Margot Moinester, Kelly Musick, Kristin Perkins, Adriana Reyes, Alix Winter, Xiaolin Zhou, and Jonathan Spader. This research was supported in part by fellowships from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

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Correspondence to Hope Harvey.

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Harvey, H. Cumulative Effects of Doubling Up in Childhood on Young Adult Outcomes. Demography 57, 501–528 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-020-00860-0

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