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Effects of child health on parents’ relationship status


We used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to estimate the effect of a child’s poor health on the presence of the father. We investigated whether parents lived in the same household 12–18 months after the child’s birth and whether their relationships changed along a continuum (married, cohabiting, romantically involved, friends, or not involved) during the same period. We found that within this short period, having a child with poor health decreased the probability that the parents lived together by 10 percentage points. It also increased the probability that their relationship status moved in the direction of less involvement by 6 percentage points. These results indicate that children’s health and family structure jointly shape children’s long-term health and economic trajectories.

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Correspondence to Nancy E. Reichman.

Additional information

This research was supported by Grants R01-HD-35301 and R01-HD-45630 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We are grateful for helpful input from Jerry Bentley, Marcia Carlson, Irwin Garfinkel, William Greene, Michael Grossman, Stanley Henshaw, Robert Kaestner, Sara Markowitz, Jennifer Marogi, Sara McLanahan, David Ribar, Julien Teitler, Donald Wise, the Fragile Families Working Group, the Health Economics Group of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Daniel T. Lichter, and several anonymous referees.

An erratum to this article is available at

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Reichman, N.E., Corman, H. & Noonan, K. Effects of child health on parents’ relationship status. Demography 41, 569–584 (2004).

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  • Health Shock
  • Nonmarital Birth
  • Fragile Family
  • Abortion Provider
  • Robert Wood Johnson Medical School