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Understanding Family Change: Past, Present, and Future Effects of Family Events on Children


  • Rachel Dunifon


This paper investigates the links between family events and changes in mother-reported behavior problems for children in middle childhood, using data from the merged mother-child supplement of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The family events considered here are divorce/separation, maternal unemployment, the onset of welfare receipt, and the birth of a sibling. In order to address problems of heterogeneity, I use within-child fixed-effects models in analyses relating these events to changes in reported behavior problem scores. Additionally, recognizing that family events occur as parts of complex processes, I estimate whether each event has a more significant impact on children before, during, or after its occurrence. My results suggest that the effect of an impending divorce on changes in children's behavior problem scores is greater than its concurrent effect. I also identify a complex relationship between mother-reported behavior problems and the birth of a sibling; a decrease in reported problems in the period prior to the birth is followed by an increase in the period concurrent with the birth. My results also point to a marginally-significant increase in reported behavior problems concurrent with and before the onset of unemployment. These results shed light on the complexities of family interactions and, using new methodological techniques, advance the literature on the development of children in middle childhood.

Suggested Citation

  • Rachel Dunifon, "undated". "Understanding Family Change: Past, Present, and Future Effects of Family Events on Children," IPR working papers 98-29, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:nwuipr:98-29

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