2012–2013 Emerging Scholars Research Grants:
Family Complexity, Poverty, and Inequality

IRP awarded funding to five projects as part of the Family Complexity, Poverty, and Inequality research initiative, with a maximum award of $20,000 each, to emerging scholars as defined below. The awards run from May 1, 2012, through August 2013. Throughout the award period, grantees will benefit from consultation with IRP senior affiliates, with each other, and—during a workshop at which grantees will present their draft paper—with other senior poverty scholars.

Funded Proposals

Proposal Abstracts

Maternal Repartnering and Trajectories of Financial Well-Being Following a Nonmarital Birth
Principal Investigator: Sharon Bzostek, Rutgers University

Rising rates of nonmarital childbearing in the United States and high levels of relationship instability among unmarried parents mean that many children born to unwed parents will experience parental repartnering early on in their lives. Such repartnering could potentially lead to greater financial security for children and their families, perhaps replacing some of the financial resources that may have been lost through a union dissolution. Yet there are also multiple factors that might limit the financial benefits of repartnering for children and their families.

The proposed study will evaluate the extent to which, and under what conditions, maternal repartnering is associated with trajectories of financial security and well-being for mothers and their children in the nine years after a nonmarital birth. The analyses will consider the role of potentially important factors such as relationship stability within new partnerships, income sharing and joint financial decision-making among partners, and child support payments both entering and exiting the household. The study will also explore the possibility that financial insecurity leads to—as well as results from—maternal repartnering and relationship instability in new partnerships.

Data will be drawn from maternal interviews in all five waves of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (conducted around the time of the child's birth and one, three, five, and nine years later). The primary analyses will use both conventional and piecewise Hierarchical Linear Models to examine associations between maternal repartnering and trajectories of financial security and well-being, considering not just the patterns but also the timing of maternal repartnering transitions. The study will also use cross-lagged structural equation models to examine the potential bi-directionality of the association between maternal repartnering and financial insecurity.

This project will extend recent work in this area by: analyzing a new wave of data (when focal children were age nine); considering the role of factors such as income sharing and child support payments; utilizing multiple measures of financial security and well-being (including two new measures the PI hopes to develop specifically for this project); and using more detailed measures of maternal repartnering patterns (including, for example, mothers who entered more than one new partnership during the observation period).

The Great Recession's Effects on Nonmarital and Multi-Partner Fertility
Co-Principal Investigators: Christine Percheski, Northwestern University, and Rachel Kimbro, Rice University

Scholars are just beginning to examine the effects of the "Great Recession"—the recent recession that officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009—on family life in the United States. Data from the National Vital Statistics System show that the fertility rate declined from a recent high of 69.5 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 64.4 per 1,000 women as of June 2011. Both theory and evidence from previous domestic and international recessions suggest that declines in fertility may be caused by poor economic conditions, especially by high levels of unemployment.

This proposed work has three main research aims:

  1. To identify the association between local economic conditions and the likelihood of a pregnancy among partnered (cohabiting and married) and un-partnered women in the United States during 2006 to 2010;
  2. To assess whether these associations vary by education, race/ethnicity, or age; and
  3. To investigate whether changes in partnership status, frequency of sexual activity, or contraceptive practices mediate any observed relationship between economic conditions and the likelihood of pregnancy.

The investigators plan to examine the questions detailed above with a particular focus on understanding effects on nonmarital and multi-partner fertility. These two phenomena are particularly important to study because of their increasing prevalence in the United States and their associations with family complexity, child well-being, and family poverty risk. To investigate the association between economic conditions and pregnancy, they plan to merge the restricted access version of the 2006 to 2010 National Survey of Family Growth with annual data on unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (annual rate from the Local Area Unemployment Series for the CBSA), mortgage foreclosures from the Mortgage Bankers Association's National Delinquency Survey (annual average at the state-level), and poverty from the Census Bureau (annual rate for the CBSA).

With the resulting merged data, the investigators will model the probability that NSFG participants became pregnant during the observation period, utilizing a rich set of covariates and modeling results for partnered (married and cohabiting) and unpartnered women separately. The analysis will also test for differences in the relationship between economic factors and fertility by demographic groups as well as test for mediating factors such as sexual behavior, contraceptive use, and changes in partnership status.

The investigators anticipate that their findings will shed light on how the Great Recession has affected fertility and family complexity in the United States. A better understanding of how macro forces may influence fertility differently across demographic subgroups will assist policymakers in planning for poverty alleviation and work support programs as well as family planning services during recessions.

Associations between Family Structure Change and Child Development: The Moderating Effects of Timing and Family Income
Principal Investigator: Rebecca Ryan, Georgetown University

High rates of nonmarital childbirth and divorce in the United States mean that most children today will experience one or more changes in family structure. There is public and policy concern over these trends because children who have experienced family change are more likely to live in poverty and experience poor child cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Two assumptions undergird public policy initiatives to address these associations, such as those to promote marriage, encourage fathers' involvement, and enforce fathers' child support payment: (1) links between family change and child well-being are causal; (2) associations are stronger—or at least as strong—in poor or near-poor families: with far higher rates of family instability, these families are the implicit targets of many of these policies. The proposed project will test these assumptions by investigating the conditions under which family structure changes matter most to child well-being and, in doing so, illuminate the wisdom of and best targets for these policy types.

Using data from the Maternal and Child Supplement of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 3,492), the project will investigate how changes in family structure experienced during four different developmental periods (early childhood, preschool, middle childhood, and preadolescence) relate to concurrent and subsequent changes in children's cognitive and behavioral trajectories. By relating changes in family structure to changes in children's outcomes, this approach minimizes the influence of selection into family change. If associations vary by child age at the time of disruption, as life course and developmental theories suggest they should, distinguishing associations by child age would also reveal associations previously obscured in studies averaging across ages. Finally, comparing associations by child age would suggest whether policy concern about family instability should focus on instability in the years following childbirth, for example, rather than instability more generally. The project will also investigate associations separately for children born into poor and non-poor families, and across other income groupings, to determine if family instability has different associations with children's behavior across income levels.

Identifying variation in associations by family income will illuminate the wisdom of targeting, explicitly or implicitly, marriage promotion and responsible fatherhood programs to low-income families and communities.

Changes in Family Structure and Income Instability among American Families
Principal Investigator: Laura Tach, University of Pennsylvania; starting fall 2012 at Cornell University

Policymakers are concerned about family instability and the complexity that results because it may undermine parental resources and investments in children, contributing to disparities in social and economic outcomes. One potential mechanism by which family instability may undermine parental and child well-being is by generating instability in economic resources as parents and partners move in and out of the household. Despite the fact that researchers have identified the level and stability of income as a pathway through which family instability may affect child outcomes, there has been little work that examines directly how family instability contributes to income instability or how this association has changed over time. The proposed research aims to fill this gap by examining how family instability contributes to experiences of income instability for American children.

Using longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) from 1984 to 2010, the proposed research will use regression analysis to examine:

  1. How much income instability children experience in (a) stable single-parent families, (b) stable two-parent families, and (c) unstable families.
  2. The magnitude of income change children experience when parents break up and repartner.
  3. The relative magnitude of income instability from changes in family structure compared to other known sources of income instability, including the gain or loss of a job or government benefits.
  4. Whether the association between family instability and income instability has changed between 1980 and 2010.
  5. Whether the association between family instability and income instability varies by the race, education, or marital status of the household head.

Understanding the relationship between family change and the stability of income during childhood has important implications for public policy because it provides information about the relative effectiveness of family-based or labor market-based policies for promoting economic security. Comparing experiences of income instability among stable single and two-parent families versus unstable families also provides useful information for policymakers, as it highlights the types of families with children who are most vulnerable to experiences of income instability and who may benefit most from interventions.

Incarceration, Family Instability, and the Intragenerational Transmission of Poverty
Principal Investigator: Kristin Turney, University of California-Irvine

Dramatic increases in the American incarceration rate have profoundly altered the lives of the predominantly poor, minority men who are most likely to experience imprisonment, but have also altered the lives of the women and children connected to them. Missing from this burgeoning literature on the collateral consequences of incarceration, though, is a complete and nuanced understanding of how incarceration is linked to multiple forms of family instability, as well as the consequences of such instability on the economic wellbeing of families.

This proposed work seeks to fill this noteworthy gap by addressing two interrelated research questions. First, the analysis will examine how paternal incarceration is linked to three aspects of family instability—separation, re-partnership, and multi-partnered fertility—among parents who share a child together. Second, the study will examine the role of family instability as a pathway in the relationship between incarceration and two distinct aspects of family economic well-being, poverty and material hardship.

Five waves of data will be used from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal survey of nearly 5,000 new and mostly unmarried parents that is uniquely situated to understand the complex and potentially countervailing consequences of incarceration for family life. Rigorous modeling strategies, designed to limit unobserved heterogeneity and understand heterogeneous effects, include the following: (1) logistic regression models that include a large array of control variables and, in some cases, restrict the sample to men especially at risk of incarceration; (2) fixed-effect regression models; (3) propensity score models with Mantel-Haenszel bounds; and (4) placebo regression models.

In investigating the link between incarceration, family instability, and family economic well-being, this project will not only contribute to the literature on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration and to the literature on demographic changes in family structure, but will also have important implications for public policy.