Family Disruption and Child Wellbeing: Understanding the Role of Family Context

Shannon E. Cavanagh, University of Texas at Austin
Aletha Huston, University of Texas at Austin

A large literature suggests that, on average, children in two-biological parent families do better on a host of socio-emotional and academic outcomes compared with others. Much of this work, however, conceptualizes family change as a stressor, but as stress theory emphasizes, stress is not an inherent attribute of an event but derives from the context in which it occurs. For some children, family change can have little negative effect or even be beneficial when the change represents a positive turning point or escape from a chronically stressful environment. Using data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a prospective, longitudinal study that includes dynamic measures of family structure histories and measures of pre-disruption family context and child wellbeing, this study investigates the conditions under which family structure change may have minimal or even positive effects on child socio-emotional wellbeing and school functioning during middle childhood.

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Presented in Poster Session 5: Union Formation and Dissolution, Fertility, Family and Well-being