Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Evidence That the Presence of a Half-Sibling Negatively Impacts a Child's Personal Development

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Evidence That the Presence of a Half-Sibling Negatively Impacts a Child's Personal Development

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

NUMEROUS STUDIES HAVE EXAMINED the impact of family structure on child outcomes such as behavior problems, violence, future income, educational performance, and future marital happiness. The bulk of existing research on family structures examines the effects of divorce on children who spend time without one of their biological parents in the household. Although several studies have looked at the effect a mutual child has on the half-siblings living with stepparents or on a new marriage, very few studies have examined the impact of a parent's prior divorce on children living with both biological parents (Bumpass, 1984; Ganong and Coleman, 1994). The aim of this article is to use economic modeling to examine whether a parent's prior marriage or any half-siblings brought into the household from previous relationships affect the well-being of children born into a subsequent marriage who live with both of their biological parents, and whether these effects are due to persistent stress in the home or to selection of parents into a second or higher-order marriage. Further, we examine what differences exist between stepchildren living with half-siblings in the household and those living without any half-siblings. (1)

The general approach taken by the majority of family structure research is to define family structure for each child according to his or her own relationships to adult members of the household (as is also noted by Ginther and Pollak 2004). Consequently, a child living with both biological parents and a half-sibling from a previous relationship would be classified as part of the two-biological parent control group, whereas his or her half-sibling would be treated as living in a stepfamily (e.g., Astone and McLanahan 1991; Dawson 1991; Downey 1995; Haurin 1992). Findings of these studies yield some insight into the experiences of children living with a stepparent, but offer little information about the impact of marriages ending before a child is conceived. Furthermore, if children born into subsequent marriages differ from children of parents in their first marriages, then combining the two types together in the control group mutes the differences between other types of family structures.

By distinguishing between children living with and without half-siblings as well as those living with mothers in a second or later marriage, we are able to identify how children living with both biological parents behave and perform differently in the presence of half-siblings. In fact, we find that the existence of half-siblings increases a child's risk of behavior problems, even for children living with both biological parents. The presence of half-siblings is negatively correlated with test scores in reading recognition, but is not significantly related to math test scores. Furthermore, the number of marriages a mother has entered into is positively related to behavior problems but is unrelated to math or reading recognition performance.

Our analysis suggests that children born into a second or higher-order marriage and living with both biological parents and a half-sibling are at risk for some of the same difficulties experienced by stepchildren. Our study also indicates that stepchildren brought into subsequent marriages only display significantly lowered well-being if half-siblings are present. These results illustrate the potential ramifications of the traditional method of classifying children into family structures based on their individual relationship with the householders, rather than based on the family types.

II

Motivation for Our Study

THERE ARE NUMEROUS FACTORS that might cause children living in a blended family to differ from children living with both biological parents in a traditional nuclear family. (2) Because blended families by definition contain step relationships, children born into a blended family are living in a household containing a stepparent. …

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