Partnership Instability and Changes in Mothering Behaviors with Young Children

Cynthia A. Osborne, University of Texas at Austin
Lawrence M. Berger, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Katherine Magnuson, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Increasingly, children live in unstable family arrangements. Prior research suggests that each maternal partnership change a child is exposed to has a negative effect on child well-being. Social stress theory posits that partnership transitions are associated with changes in resources and family processes which alter the mother’s capacity to care for her child, thus leading to negative outcomes for children. No study, however, has directly tested whether these child outcomes are driven by changes in mothering behaviors, as theory suggests. Using data from the Fragile Families Study, we estimate HLM models to determine the effect of partnership transitions on changes in mothering behaviors between the child’s birth and age five. Additionally, we examine the extent to which changes in mothering behaviors may be due to changes in economic resources and emotional support from the exiting or entering biological or social father. The results will further our understanding of why family instability negatively affects children.

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Presented in Session 124: Family Instability