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Title: Family Structure Transitions and Children's Wellbeing During Middle Childhood
Resulting in 1 citation.
1. Berger, Lawrence Marc
Magnuson, Katherine A.
Family Structure Transitions and Children's Wellbeing During Middle Childhood
Presented: Washington, DC, Meetings of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR): Research That Matters, January 17-20, 2008
Cohort(s): Children of the NLSY79
Publisher: Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR)
Keyword(s): Behavior Problems Index (BPI); Children, Well-Being; Family Structure; Household Composition; Marital Dissolution; Marriage; Modeling; Parents, Single; Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT- Math); Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT- Reading); Work Hours

Permission to reprint the abstract has not been received from the publisher.

Purpose: About half of all children under 18 will spend time in a single-parent family and approximately one third will spend time in a step-family. Adverse associations between these family structures and child wellbeing are well documented. However, pathways to non-traditional family structures are diverse and include both births into non-traditional families and transitions into (or between) these family types. Most prior research has focused on associations between family structure states and children's development and wellbeing. Yet, it is likely that family structure transitions, in and of themselves, may account for some portion of these associations given that such transitions may be disruptive and destabilizing, thereby necessitating considerable reorganization of family roles and creating multiple stresses. Children's responses to these stresses may, at least in part, depend upon the developmental stage at which they occur, as well as the quality of caregiving to which children have previously been exposed. A considerable number of studies have explored these associations for older children and adolescents; few have examined these relations for younger children. Furthermore, existing research provides little insight as to whether the quality of early caregiving experiences may moderate these associations in middle childhood.

Methods: We use longitudinal data on about 3,700 children age 5 to 12 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) and Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM) to examine associations of family structure states and transitions with children's achievement (PIAT math and reading tests) and behavior (Behavior Problems Index) trajectories. We consider whether these associations vary by children's ages, as well as the quality of their home environments in early childhood. We also assess whether they are transitory or persist over time. An important methodological concern is that families that transition may be different from those who do not in multiple ways, and that these differences may, in part, explain differences children's achievement and behavior. Consequently, it is important to use analytic approaches which reduce the likelihood of selection bias. Because the HLM identifies the effects of family structure transitions on changes in achievement and behavior, this method reduces bias from unobserved persistent child and family characteristics.

Results: Results suggest that both residing in and transitioning to a single-mother family during middle childhood is associated with small increases in behavior problems. These associations are stronger for children who experienced higher quality home environments in early childhood. Transitions into as well as stable residence in step families are less consistently associated with child behavior, although we find some evidence that residence in a step family may be associated with small short-term increases in behavior problems. We find little consistent evidence linking any types of family structure transitions or states to children's achievement during middle childhood.

Implications: As a sizeable proportion of children experience family structure transitions, it is crucial to understand how these changes affect their achievement and behavior. Implications of this research for public policies regarding marriage and family formation, as well as for designing programs to promote child wellbeing in complex families, are discussed.

Bibliography Citation
Berger, Lawrence Marc and Katherine A. Magnuson. "Family Structure Transitions and Children's Wellbeing During Middle Childhood." Presented: Washington, DC, Meetings of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR): Research That Matters, January 17-20, 2008.