The Influence of Marriage, Cohabitation, and Family Structure Changes on Low-Income Adolescents' Development

Heather J. Bachman, Northwestern University
Rebekah Levine Coley, Boston College
P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Northwestern University

The present study investigated the influence of marriage, cohabitation and marital/partnership instability on young adolescents' cognitive and socioemotional trajectories. Using longitudinal data from Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study, we tracked family structure changes for 884 low-income adolescents (10 - 14 years-old in wave 1) during the 16 months between interviews. In the short-term, no growth differences on standardized reading and mathematics assessments were detected between adolescents from stably single and stably partnered families (married or cohabiting) after controlling for demographic and economic covariates. However, adolescents experienced improved psychological and behavioral functioning if their mothers remained in married unions rather than cohabiting partnerships or single-parent families between waves. In contrast, while stably married unions appeared beneficial for low-income adolescents, adjustment problems increased when mothers entered marriage and such problems declined when marriages dissolved. Theoretical and applied implications of these findings are discussed.

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Presented in Poster Session 3: Families, Parenting, Adolescents, and Children