Coming and Going: The Effect of Household Composition on the Economic Well-being of Families with Children
du Toit, Nola
du Toit, Nola and Bachtell, Kate and Haggerty, Catherine (2011) Coming and Going: The Effect of Household Composition on the Economic Well-being of Families with Children. In: Urban Affairs Association 2011 Annual Meeting, NORC at the University of Chicago.
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As a result of the deinstitutionalization of marriage, high levels of divorce, and an increased acceptance of cohabitation and single parenthood, there is an ever changing array of families in American households (Stacey 1996, Thistle 2006). Current literature examines how different types of households impact the wellbeing of families and children. Whether adults are married, cohabiting, or single has been shown to impact their life chances and those of any children living in their household. Studies have examined changes in composition or household instability to negative outcomes, especially among children. Unfortunately, studies that examine differences in type of family and household composition are often limited to comparisons of unions - married, single, or cohabiting, focusing on the parents. Similarly, the literature on the impact of change in household composition has focused primarily on changes in relationships, such as marriage or divorce. Comparatively less research has been done on the influence of (1) extended family members and non-relatives (roommates, boarders) in the household, and (2) changes in household composition that are not related to union formation among parents. Using data from two waves of the Making Connections Survey, a study of ten disadvantaged urban communities, we examine different types of family and non-family households, the extent of change in household composition when other household members are considered, and differences in the effect of these types of household structures on a variety of economic measures of child wellbeing. We observe differences in household composition beyond the traditional nuclear family and find that there are many types of households not accounted for in conventional family studies. In fact, 45% of households with children in our sample include some adult who is not the parent of the focal child. In addition, we find that these non-traditional households differ along several measures of economic wellbeing. Finally, the results show that changes in the composition of these different households impact their economic stability and, therefore, child wellbeing over time. This research suggests the need for more recognition of these other people in children’s lives and the complex households in which children live.