The Life Course of Family Structure and Adolescent School Achievement: Racial and Ethnic Differences

Holly Heard, Rice University

This paper examines racial and ethnic differences in the effects of family structure on adolescent school grades. I envision family structure as a process throughout the life course, characterized by three mechanisms of influence: family structure status during adolescence, exposure to family types, and instability caused by family structure changes. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, I examine models separately for Non-Hispanic White, African American, Hispanic, and Asian adolescents. Results suggest that status and exposure measures are particularly important in predicting GPA for White adolescents, while for African Americans status during adolescence and having a recent change influence their school achievement. Hispanics show no family structure effects, while for Asian adolescents the presence of a stepfather incurs educational disadvantages. Unique strengths and cultural adaptations may help to explain why minority adolescents, unlike Non-Hispanic Whites, show no long-term effects of family structure.

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Presented in Session 91: Race, Ethnicity, and the Family