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Getting Inside the Family: How Parents’ Relationship Quality Is Linked to Children’s Behavior in Married and Cohabiting Families


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  • Julia S. Goldberg

    (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

  • Marcia J. Carlson

    (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

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    While an extensive literature has shown that family structure is linked with child wellbeing, less well understood is how the dynamics within similar types of families affect children. Family systems theory posits that parents’ couple relationship is important for promoting children’s wellbeing. In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine how couple supportiveness in married and cohabiting families is related to trajectories of children’s externalizing and internalizing behavior problems throughout early and middle childhood. Using latent growth curve and fixed effects models, we find that parents’ greater supportiveness is associated with lower levels of children’s behavior problems in both married and cohabiting families. Using cross-lagged structural equation models to examine the direction of this association, we find that while children’s behavior problems have a modest effect on the subsequent quality of parents’ relationships, parents’ relationship quality has a greater effect on children’s behavior problems over time. Overall, our study suggests that more positive couple interactions are beneficial for children residing with both of their biological parents.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. in its series Working Papers with number 1428.

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    Date of creation: Oct 2012
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:pri:crcwel:wp12-18-ff

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    Related research

    Keywords: Parent Relationship Quality; Child Behavior; child wellbeing; Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study;

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    1. Patrick Royston, 2004. "Multiple imputation of missing values," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 4(3), pages 227-241, September.
    2. Conti, Gabriella & Heckman, James J., 2012. "The Economics of Child Well-Being," IZA Discussion Papers 6930, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Smith, James Patrick & Smith, Gillian C., 2010. "Long-term economic costs of psychological problems during childhood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 110-115, July.
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