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Family structure and children’s behavior

Over the last 40 years, rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing in the United States have risen dramatically. Most children in the United States will experience one or more changes in family structure during their childhood, for example, from a two-biological-parent family into a single-parent or stepparent family. Children who have experienced family change tend to have poorer cognitive and behavioral outcomes than those from intact families. Public policy attempts to reduce family change or ameliorate its expected effects take three broad approaches: (1) promoting marriage; (2) promoting father involvement; and (3) reducing economic strain among single-parent families. These policies assume that the relationship between family change and child development is as strong—or stronger—in poor or near-poor families as in families with higher incomes. With their substantially higher rates of family instability, low-income families are the targets of many of these policies. The study discussed in this article tests this assumption by estimating how changes in family structure are related to changes in children’s behavior, for low-, moderate-, and high-income households.


Economic Support, Family & Partnering, Family Structure, Financial Security