Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Effects of Family Structure on the Earnings Attainment Process: Differences by Gender

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Effects of Family Structure on the Earnings Attainment Process: Differences by Gender

Article excerpt

This study compares how being raised in an original, two-parent family and being raised in other family structures affects educational achievement, occupational status, and earnings attainment for a national sample of 30- to 59-year-old women and men. Data are derived from the 1989 Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Findings suggest that family structure has different effects by gender. Although both men and women from original, two-parent families earn more, on average, than those from other family structures, for women, this effect occurs through educational attainment. For men, the association between family structure and attainment is explained by other family background variables, including smaller family size, being Catholic, higher levels of parental education, and being White. Men who are raised by both natural parents are not advantaged educationally, compared with those who grow up in other types of family structures. A cohort analysis for men that compares baby boomers with prebaby boomers, however, suggests contradictory effects of family structure that deserve more exploration.

Key Words: divorce, earnings attainment, family structure, gender, two-parent families.

How does family structure in childhood affect an individual's subsequent socioeconomic wellbeing? We know that the absence of the father lowers cognitive test scores for young children (Mott, 1993) and that being raised by a single parent may interfere with high school graduation (Coleman, 1988; McLanahan, 1985; Shaw, 1982) and with the availability of funding for higher education (Steelman & Powell, 1991). McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) argue that children raised by only one biological parent are deprived of economic and social resources, which negatively affects their future success. Boys who grow up in original, two-parent families have a greater chance of achieving a higher occupational status than those raised in families headed by women (Duncan & Duncan, 1969), and boys who are raised by their mothers have a greater chance of ending up in occupations with lower status than those their fathers held (Biblarz & Raftery, 1993). Amato and Keith (1991) indicate that children who experienced parental divorce are more likely than those raised in original, two-parent families to exhibit psychological, behavioral, social, and academic problems. A great deal of evidence suggests that being raised without both natural parents involves costs for both children and the larger society. (See McLanahan & Booth, 1991, and Seltzer, 1994, for comprehensive reviews and Demo, 1992, for some counter arguments.)

These studies do not tell us, however, whether divorce affects children when they mature to adulthood. In addition, prior research on the effects of family structure on socioeconomic outcomes frequently has failed to consider effects by gender by considering men only (Biblarz & Raftery, 1993; Duncan & Duncan, 1969; Greenberg & Wolf, 1982; Krein, 1986) or has been limited by confining attention to outcomes in young adulthood (Hill, Augustoniak, & Ponza, 1987). This article extends previous work by providing a clear causal picture of the effects of childhood family structure on adult socioeconomic outcomes for both men and women.

We differentiate two broad categories of family structure: those respondents who were raised by both natural parents most of the time until they were 16 years old (original, two-parent family status) and those who report that they were not. We provide a rationale for using these broad categories and expand on this definition. We study (a) how growing up with both natural parents affects educational attainment, occupational status, and earnings, compared with growing up in other family structures, and (b) whether these effects differ by gender.


Human capital and status attainment perspectives provide useful bases for studying the effects of family structure on adult socioeconomic outcomes. …

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