Family Instability and the Home Environment

Shannon E. Cavanagh, University of Texas at Austin
Michael E. Foster, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Accumulating evidence suggests that family instability shapes young people’s lives. Theory that motivates much of this work posits that family transitions set in motion changes in the home that are stressful and increase the likelihood that children’s development is disrupted. Data limitations, however, have precluded scholars from mapping out the link between family transitions, especially multiple transitions, and changes in the home environment. This paper explores this dynamic association. Using latent growth modeling, we examine how changes in family structure factor into trajectories of parental stress and investments, parent-child closeness, and household organization over time. We use data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a prospective study that follows children from birth though 5th grade, contains 25 reports of family structure and includes gold standard measures of the home environment over time. This research can inform theory development in this emerging field and improve our operationalization of family instability.

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Presented in Session 124: Family Instability