Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Structure History and Adolescent Romance

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Structure History and Adolescent Romance

Article excerpt

This study examined the association between family structure history and adolescent romance. Using a national sample drawn from Add Health (N = 13,570), family structure at Wave I was associated with the likelihood that adolescents were involved in a romantic relationship at Wave II and, among those in a relationship, the number of relationships they had since Wave I. Cumulative family instability and its timing were also associated with these outcomes and largely drove the family structure effects. Gender and age interactions suggest that experiences of family instability were more consequential to the romantic lives of boys and younger teens.

Key Words: family structure, adolescence, romance, gender, age.

Adolescent romance is an emerging area of social science inquiry for two important reasons. First, the formation of intimate heterosexual romantic relationships is a key developmental task in adolescence (Collins, 2003; Thornton, 1990). Nearly all adolescents express an interest in dating and, by late adolescence, most have experienced an exclusive heterosexual romantic relationship (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003). These romantic relationships, in turn, help young people define who they are (Feiring, 1999) and serve as a source of social status during adolescence (Dunphy, 1963). At the same time, romantic relationships can be problematic. National estimates suggest that about a third of young people experience some type of victimization in romantic relationships (Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Küpper, 2001). Moreover, young people, girls especially, who become romantically involved experience increases in depression (Joyner & Udry, 2000). Second, these relationships not only help shape the adolescent experience, they can presage union formation in adulthood. For example, adolescents involved in adolescent relationships are more likely to cohabit or marry in early adulthood (Raley, Crissey, & Muller, 2007). Precursors of domestic violence in adult relationships have also been observed in adolescent dating relationships (Henton, Cate, Koval, Lloyd, & Christopher, 1983).

In this growing area of research, the antecedents of adolescent romance remain poorly understood. Like so many developmental phenomena in the early life course, adolescent romance, we argue, is rooted in the family context, specifically, in young people's family structure histories. The theoretical foundations for this research come from the intergenerational transmission of divorce literature (Bumpass, Martin, & Sweet, 1991, Mueller & Pope, 1977; Wolfinger, 2005), evidence that adolescent relationship violence is associated with family structure (Carr & VanDeusen, 2002; Malik, Sorenson, & Aneshensel, 1998), and findings from the family process paradigm (Crosnoe, Mistry, & Elder, 2002). Integrating insights from these literatures, we expect that family structure history is associated with the likelihood of romantic involvement and, among those involved in romantic relationships, the likelihood of involvement in an emotionally or physically dangerous relationship or both and the number of relationships they engaged in over the past 18 months.

These expectations are tested with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of school-going adolescents. Using adolescent reports of their parents' marital and cohabitation histories and indicators that capture the presence, character, and stability of their own romantic relationships, we explore the links between family structure history and adolescent romance. In doing so, we pay special attention to variations by gender and age, recognizing that the consequences of family structure change (Amato, 2000) and the meanings and significance of romance differ in important ways for boys and girls (Giordano, Longmore, & Manning, 2006; Maccoby, 1998), and that the nature and importance of romantic relationships change as adolescents age (Shulman & Scharf, 2000). …

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