Family

  • Elizabeth Peters
  • Sara McLanahan

Leaders: Elizabeth Peters, Sara McLanahan

The continuing decline in prime-age employment interacts with ongoing changes in the structure and composition of low-income families. The relevant trends here include (a) declining marriage rates and increasing cohabitation, (b) increases in nonmarital births and multi-partner fertility, and (c) rising noncustodial parenthood (especially for fathers). These developments all work to weaken the “family safety net” for poor children. In a precarious labor market, a second parent provides backup in difficult times (e.g., extra income, childcare), thus reducing the risks of poverty. The family safety net is in this sense weakening just as the labor market is becoming more precarious. Moreover, because some programs (e.g., EITC) provide higher benefits for custodial parents, the rise of noncustodial parenting undermines the capacity of the formal safety net to step in as the family safety net weakens. These and related changes in family structure have prompted a spate of policy proposals, some involving safety net reforms that accommodate the new family forms (e.g., incentivizing noncustodial parents to comply with child-support orders), and others addressing the underlying institutional changes themselves (e.g., increasing the availability of long-acting reversible contraceptives). The charge of the Family RG is to evaluate these proposals and to better understand how the safety net is adapting to changes in family structure. The following projects are a sampling of the research underway within this RG.

A new round of Fragile Families data collection: Under the leadership of Sara McLanahan, a new initiative to update the Fragile Families Study is underway, with a focus on adding administrative records, metabolic and immune markers, and measures of methylation.

Income and the developing brain: Does income support for families affect the brain function and development of infants? A new experiment will reveal all.

Measuring family complexity in the AOS: Will the American Opportunity Study (AOS) capture the rise of ever more complicated family forms? By linking tax, census, and birth records, the AOS should be up to the task.

Family - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Prenatal Exposure to an Acute Stressor and Children’s Cognitive Outcomes Florencia Torche

Prenatal Exposure to an Acute Stressor and Children’s Cognitive Outcomes

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Demography
Date: 08/2018

Exposure to environmental stressors is highly prevalent and unequally distributed along socioeconomic lines and may have enduring negative consequences, even when experienced before birth. Yet, estimating the consequences of prenatal stress on children’s outcomes is complicated by the issue of confounding (i.e., unobserved factors correlated with stress exposure and with children’s outcomes). I combine a natural experiment—a strong earthquake in Chile—with a panel survey to capture the effect of prenatal exposure on acute stress and children’s cognitive ability. I find that stress exposure in early pregnancy has no effect on children’s cognition among middle-class families, but it has a strong negative influence among disadvantaged families. I then examine possible pathways accounting for the socioeconomic stratification in the effect of stress, including differential exposure across socioeconomic status, differential sensitivity, and parental responses. Findings suggest that the interaction between prenatal exposures and socioeconomic advantage provides a powerful mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

Marriage Markets and Intermarriage: Exchange in First Marriages and Remarriages Zhenchao Qian, Daniel T. Lichter

Marriage Markets and Intermarriage: Exchange in First Marriages and Remarriages

Author: Zhenchao Qian, Daniel T. Lichter
Publisher: Demography
Date: 04/2018

Drawing on data from the American Community Survey, we compare patterns of assortative mating in first marriages, remarriages, and mixed-order marriages. We identify a number of ascribed and achieved characteristics that are viewed as resources available for exchange, both as complements and substitutes. We apply conditional logit models to show how patterns of assortative mating among never-married and previously married persons are subject to local marriage market opportunities and constraints. The results reveal that previously married individuals “cast a wider net”: spousal pairings are more heterogamous among remarriages than among first marriages. Marital heterogamy, however, is reflected in systematic evidence of trade-offs showing that marriage order (i.e., status of being never-married) is a valued trait for exchange. Never-married persons are better positioned than previously married persons to marry more attractive marital partners, variously measured (e.g., highly educated partners). Previously married persons—especially women—are disadvantaged in the marriage market, facing demographic shortages of potential partners to marry. Marriage market constraints take demographic expression in low remarriage rates and in heterogamous patterns of mate selection in which previously married partners often substitute other valued characteristics in marriage with never-married persons.

State of the Union 2018: Policy Marianne Cooper, Shelley J. Correll

State of the Union 2018: Policy

Author: Marianne Cooper, Shelley J. Correll
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 03/2018

The ongoing decline in the gender wage gap and many other types of gender inequality slowed down or stalled entirely in the 1990s. Amid inaction by the federal government, some state and local governments have pursued policies to reduce gender inequality, such as raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid leave. Efforts by private organizations to address gender inequality often focus on reducing stereotypic biases, delivering unconscious or implicit bias training, or formalizing the employee evaluation process.

Marriage, Labor Supply and the Dynamics of the Social Safety Net Hamish Low, Costas Meghir, Luigi Pistaferri, Alessandra Voena

Marriage, Labor Supply and the Dynamics of the Social Safety Net

Author: Hamish Low, Costas Meghir, Luigi Pistaferri, Alessandra Voena
Publisher: NBER
Date: 02/2018

The 1996 PRWORA reform introduced time limits on the receipt of welfare in the United States. We use variation by state and across demographic groups to provide reduced form evidence showing that such limits led to a fall in welfare claims (partly due to “banking” benefits for future use), a rise in employment, and a decline in divorce rates. We then specify and estimate a life-cycle model of marriage, labor supply and divorce under limited commitment to better understand the mechanisms behind these behavioral responses, carry out counterfactual analysis with longer run impacts and evaluate the welfare effects of the program. Based on the model, which reproduces the reduced form estimates, we show that among low educated women, instead of relying on TANF, single mothers work more, more mothers remain married, some move to relying only on food stamps and, in ex-ante welfare terms, women are worse off.

The Kids Are All Right Janet M. Currie

The Kids Are All Right

Author: Janet M. Currie
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

In this article, we pose the following question: Has the overall set of changes to the safety net since PRWORA improved outcomes for children? To answer that question, we look at several measures of child well-being—mortality rates, teen pregnancy, drug use, and high school graduation rates—and find that across all these measures, poor children are much better off today.

family - CPI Affiliates

Elizabeth Peters's picture Elizabeth Peters Family Research Group Leader; Director of Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
The Urban Institute
Linda Burton's picture Linda Burton Poverty Research Group Leader, Dean of the Social Sciences
Duke University
Sara McLanahan's picture Sara McLanahan Family Research Group Leader, Director of Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
Princeton University
Annette Lareau's picture Annette Lareau Professor of Sociology; Stanley I. Sheerr Professor in the Social Sciences
University of Pennsylvania
Christine Percheski's picture Christine Percheski Assistant Professor of Sociology; Institute for Policy Research Faculty Fellow
Northwestern University

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Family - Other Research

Title Author Media
Incarceration Spillovers in Criminal and Family Networks Manudeep Bhuller, Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, Magne Mogstad

Incarceration Spillovers in Criminal and Family Networks

Author: Manudeep Bhuller, Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, Magne Mogstad
Publisher: NBER
Date: 08/2018

Using quasi-random assignment of criminal cases to judges, we estimate large incarceration spillovers in criminal and brother networks. When a defendant is sent to prison, there are 51 and 32 percentage point reductions in the probability his criminal network members and younger brothers will be charged with a crime, respectively, over the ensuing four years. Correlational evidence misleadingly finds small positive effects. These spillovers are of first order importance for policy, as the network reductions in future crimes committed are larger than the direct effect on the incarcerated defendant.

Children and the Elderly: Wealth Inequality Among America’s Dependents Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Christine Percheski

Children and the Elderly: Wealth Inequality Among America’s Dependents

Author: Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Christine Percheski
Publisher: Demography
Date: 06/2018

Life cycle theory predicts that elderly households have higher levels of wealth than households with children, but these wealth gaps are likely dynamic, responding to changes in labor market conditions, patterns of debt accumulation, and the overall economic context. Using Survey of Consumer Finances data from 1989 through 2013, we compare wealth levels between and within the two groups that make up America’s dependents: the elderly and child households (households with a resident child aged 18 or younger). Over the observed period, the absolute wealth gap between elderly and child households in the United States increased substantially, and diverging trends in wealth accumulation exacerbated preexisting between-group disparities. Widening gaps were particularly pronounced among the least-wealthy elderly and child households. Differential demographic change in marital status and racial composition by subgroup do not explain the widening gap. We also find increasing wealth inequality within child households and the rise of a “parental 1 %.” During a time of overall economic growth, the elderly have been able to maintain or increase their wealth, whereas many of the least-wealthy child households saw precipitous declines. Our findings suggest that many child households may lack sufficient assets to promote the successful flourishing of the next generation.

The Production of Inequalities within Families and Across Generations: The Intergenerational Effects of Birth Order and Family Size on Educational Attainment Kieron Barclay, Torkild Lyngstad, Dalton Conley

The Production of Inequalities within Families and Across Generations: The Intergenerational Effects of Birth Order and Family Size on Educational Attainment

Author: Kieron Barclay, Torkild Lyngstad, Dalton Conley
Publisher: NBER
Date: 04/2018

There has long been interest in the extent to which effects of social stratification extend and persist across generations. We take a novel approach to this question by asking whether birth order and sibling group size in the parental generation influences the educational attainment of their children. To address this question we use Swedish population data on cohorts born 1960-1982. To study the effects of parental birth order and family size we apply a cousin fixed effects design and exploit information on twin births in the parents generation. Relative to having a first-born mother, having a second-born or fifth-born mother is associated with educational attainment at age 30 being 4% and 8% of a standard deviation lower, respectively. After adjusting for attained parental education and social class, the parental birth order effect is heavily attenuated. Nevertheless, we do find that children who share the same birth order and gender as their parents attain slightly more education, and this is particularly pronounced when the parents have higher levels of education themselves. We do not find clear or consistent evidence for parental sibling group size effects. Overall our results suggest that birth order and family size effects operate through a Markovian process of transmission.

Subsidized Housing and the Transition to Adulthood Yana Kucheva

Subsidized Housing and the Transition to Adulthood

Author: Yana Kucheva
Publisher: Demography
Date: 04/2018

Despite abundant evidence about the effect of children’s socioeconomic circumstances on their transition to adulthood, we know much less about the effect of social policy programs aimed at poor families with children in facilitating how and when children become adults. This issue is particularly important for the U.S. federal subsidized housing program given its long history of placing subsidized units in some of the poorest and most racially segregated neighborhoods. Using counterfactual causal methods that adjust for the length of receipt of subsidized housing, I estimate the effect of subsidized housing on teenage parenthood, household formation, and educational attainment. I find that the subsidized housing program has either null or positive effects on the transition to adulthood and that these effects vary by both race and gender. These results underscore the importance of considering whether social programs have differential effects on the life chances of individuals based on both race and gender.

Marriage, Family Structure, and Maternal Employment Trajectories Christine Percheski

Marriage, Family Structure, and Maternal Employment Trajectories

Author: Christine Percheski
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 03/2018

Previous studies of maternal employment have focused on marital status differences, but the rise in nonmarital cohabiting parenthood problematizes the simple dichotomy between married and unmarried mothers. Theory and previous research yield mixed predictions as to whether cohabiting mothers’ employment will more closely resemble that of married mothers or lone unmarried mothers. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, I examine how maternal employment varies across family structures (married parents, cohabiting unmarried parents, and lone unmarried mothers) in the five years after a birth for mothers living in urban areas in the United States. Descriptive statistics show few differences in maternal employment patterns by family structure. Controlling for human capital, however, I find that cohabiting mothers return to work earlier and work more than married mothers. Cohabiting mothers and lone mothers show very similar employment patterns. Additionally, cohabiting mothers who later marry have employment trajectories that are similar to married mothers, whereas married mothers who divorce increase their employment hours. Family characteristics, partner characteristics, and gender attitudes do not explain employment differences between married and cohabiting mothers. I speculate that cohabiting mothers work more than married mothers as a hedge against economic deprivation given high union dissolution rates for cohabiting couples.