Changing Families, Changing Risks? Cumulative Risk Factors and Family Instability among Urban Children

Cynthia A. Osborne, University of Texas at Austin

A concern is that two very different trajectories exist for children; one for children of married parents that is largely advantageous and one for children born to unmarried mothers that is beset with multiple risks. Research finds that the cumulative number of risks to which a child is exposed at birth and early childhood best predicts subsequent development. Additionally, unmarried parent families are much less stable than married parent families, and partnership instability is negatively associated with children’s well-being. It is not clear, however, how a child’s cumulative risk changes as a result of partnership instability. Using data from the Fragile Families Study, I use HLM models to estimate the level of risk to which U.S. children are exposed to between birth and age five, based on the type of family structure into which they are born and how these risks change as a result of changes in maternal partnerships.

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