Family Instability, Childhood Relationship Skills and Romance in Adolescence

Shannon E. Cavanagh, University of Texas at Austin
Kate Sullivan, University of Texas at Austin

The intergenerational transmission of divorce remains a robust finding in the divorce literature. Young people’s lesser commitment to marriage and compromised relationship skills are key mechanisms explaining this link. Most of the research, however, has focused on relationship commitment and skills during adulthood. Given the developmental nature of social competency and skills and evidence that family instability shapes romantic experiences in adolescence, this study shifts the window back in time and examines the interplay between gender, family instability, the development of relationship commitment and skills across middle childhood, and romantic behavior at adolescence. Working with data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development , we use prospective measures of family structure, multiple reporter assessments of children’s social development across childhood and child reports of romantic experiences in adolescence to address this question. Preliminary evidence finds support for these associations. These findings, in turn, can illuminate the social processes that help sort individuals into different relationship trajectories in adolescence.

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Presented in Session 95: Family Structure and Child Well-Being