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psc brown bag iconFamily Instability, Genes, and Children’s Externalizing Behavior

Colter Mitchell (Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Princeton University)

02/13/2012, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

This study examines whether the relationship between biological-parent relationship stability and children’s externalizing behavior is moderated by child’s genetic make-up. Based on biological susceptibility theory, we hypothesize that children with particular gene variants are more responsive to changes in family structure than children without such variants. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we find that both serotonergic and dopaminergic genes interact with biological-father residential change to influence trajectories in child’s externalizing behaviors. Children with more reactive genotypes experience a greater benefit to their father entering the household than other children; they also experience a greater cost to their father exiting the household. These gene-social environment interactions are stronger when they occur in early childhood, and they are more pronounced for boys than for girls. The findings suggest that including biological information in our models of social phenomena can improve our understanding of the latter.


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