Have American Families Become Less Stable? Trends in Household Changes from 1984-2013

Kristin L. Perkins, Harvard University

An established literature seeks to identify the effects of family complexity and instability on child and adolescent outcomes. The literature considering trends in family instability over time, however, is much more limited. This paper considers trends in children’s exposure to changes in household composition from 1984 to 2010 using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). First, do the traditional measures of changes in parents’ romantic partners adequately capture children’s exposure to changes in household environments? Second, have certain types of household changes become more or less frequent? I find that the cumulative proportion of children exposed to gaining or losing a household member is much higher than the cumulative proportion of children whose father or mother leaves the household. In addition, the proportion of young children who experience a parent leaving the household is higher in the late 2000s and 2010s than in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Presented in Session 69: Family Structure and Child Outcomes