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Family Structure and the Economic Wellbeing of Children

An extensive literature that examines the relationship between family structure and children’s outcomes consistently shows that living with a single parent is associated with negative outcomes. Few studies, however, directly test the relationship between family structure and outcomes for the child once he/she reaches adulthood. We directly examine, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, whether family structure during childhood is related to the child’s economic wellbeing both during childhood as well as adulthood. Our findings suggest that the economic wellbeing of children of mothers who experience a marital dissolution and remarry are no different from the children of mothers who are continuously married. However, the children of mothers whose marriages dissolve but who do not remarry experience large declines in their income over their first ten years of life. We also show that while the children of never married mothers earn a lot less as adults than the children of married parents, these differences can largely be explained by demographic and socioeconomic factors. Finally, our findings suggest that children who have mothers who experience a marital dissolution and who do not remarry have economic losses that persist into adulthood. Robustness checks using family fixed effects models support this result. Key Words: Family Structure JEL No. J12

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Paper provided by Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University in its series Center for Policy Research Working Papers with number 139.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:max:cprwps:139
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  1. Jonathan Gruber, 2004. "Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long-Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(4), pages 799-834, October.
  2. Heisz, Andrew & Corak, Miles, 1999. "Death and Divorce: The Long-term Consequences of Parental Loss on Adolescents," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 1999135e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  3. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1994. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," NBER Chapters, in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 257-298 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Sara McLanahan, 1988. "Family structure and dependency: Early transitions to female household headship," Demography, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 1-16, February.
  5. Philip K. Robins & David H. Greenberg & Paul Fronstin, 2001. "Parental disruption and the labour market performance of children when they reach adulthood," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 14(1), pages 137-172.
  6. Ribar, David C., 2004. "What Do Social Scientists Know About the Benefits of Marriage? A Review of Quantitative Methodologies," IZA Discussion Papers 998, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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