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psc brown bag iconMulti-Partnered Fertility and Child Well-Being among Urban U.S. Families

Marcia J. Carlson (School of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

02/03/2014, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

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At the nexus of changing marital and fertility behavior is a new reality of contemporary family life - the fact that a significant fraction of adults today (will) have biological children by more than one partner, sometimes called 'multi-partnered fertility.' Among some disadvantaged groups (including unmarried parents with children and mothers on welfare), the majority will have children with at least two partners, implying that their children will have one or more half-siblings and experience a complex family situation. Multi-partnered fertility may have important implications for children's well-being by affecting family roles, relationships and kinship networks, particularly as concerns the rearing and socialization of children. When parents are called upon to provide resources to children across more than one household - or to children of different biological relatedness within the same household, the resulting complexities may compromise the quantity and/or quality of parental investment that children receive, potentially diminishing children's well-being.

In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to evaluate three measures of children's behavioral and cognitive outcomes over ages 3, 5 and 9 as a function of various categories of multi-partnered fertility (and a host of covariates). We use random effects models to evaluate the overall association between multi-partnered fertility and child outcomes over time, and we use latent growth models to evaluate trajectories of child outcomes and the extent to which they are 'disrupted' by mothers or fathers having new children by other partners. We find modest evidence that children with half-siblings by both their mother and father display slightly higher externalizing behavioral problems, but having half-siblings does not relate to internalizing behavioral problems. Having a half-sibling by one's mother or both parents is also associated with lower cognitive scores (as is having full siblings). These findings suggest that the growing complexity in family life has implications for children's development and well-being and may contribute to broader social and economic inequality over time.




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