Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Living Arrangements and the Formation of Coresidential Unions

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Living Arrangements and the Formation of Coresidential Unions

Article excerpt

The relationship between multiple dimensions of childhood living arrangements and the formation of subsequent unions is investigated. Using the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, both statuses and transitions associated with childhood living arrangements at three different stages of childhood are considered. It was found that both statuses and transitions, but not the ages at which they occur, are related to the risk of union formation. Women who experienced more transitions in childhood living arrangements and who lived with other than married, biological parents form premarital cohabiting unions faster than other women. Rates of first marriage are higher among women who lived with a stepparent, and they are lower among women who lived with a parent and that parent's cohabiting partner.

Key Words: childhood living arrangements, cohabitation, marital timing, marriage, union formation.

Recent cohorts of children have experienced considerable change in their living arrangements (Bumpass & Lu, 1999; Graefe & Lichter, 1999). Divorce, remarriage, nonmarital childbearing, and nonmarital cohabitation have all contributed to increased fluidity in the living arrangements of children. Although a snapshot picture reveals that the majority of children still live with both parents, more than half of all children will spend some time in an alternative family (defined here as not living with married biological parents; Bumpass & Lu; Bumpass & Raley, 1995). The increased diversity of childhood living arrangements has led researchers to consider the implications of changing family structure for a variety of long-term outcomes for children. In this article, the relationship between multiple dimensions of childhood living arrangements and the rate and type of coresidential unions formed by women are considered. The type and rate of unions formed are important to consider given that both premarital cohabitation and age at marriage have been closely linked to the risk of subsequent marital dissolution (Bumpass, Martin, & Sweet, 1991).

Previous research has documented a positive association between parental marital dissolution and subsequent union formation behavior by children (Axinn & Thornton, 1993; Cherlin, Kiernan, & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; Thornton, 1991). This research is extended by expanding the measure of childhood living arrangements experienced by children, considering the effects of both statuses and transitions. Specifically, a wide range of living arrangements and transitions experienced at three different stages of childhood, as well as cumulative experience with different living arrangements, are considered.


In a broad sense, theoretical arguments that link childhood living arrangements to subsequent outcomes stem from a larger sociological tradition that relates the characteristics of parents to those of their offspring. Classic studies such as Blau and Duncan's (1964) The American Occupational Structure and Featherman and Hauser's (1978) Opportunity and Change link the characteristics of parental households (parental income, occupation, and aspirations) to the education, income, and occupation of children. These studies, among others, reaffirm the intergenerational transmission of social status.

Consistent with the notion of an intergenerational transmission of status, a number of studies have linked living arrangements during childhood to a variety of subsequent outcomes, including dropping out of high school (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; DeLeire & Kalil, 2002; Sandefur, McLanahan, & Wojtkiewicz, 1992); years of schooling obtained (Krein & Beller, 1988); adult earnings (Hill & Duncan, 1985; Li & Wojtkiewicz, 1992); nonmarital fertility (An, Haveman, & Wolfe, 1993; Wu, 1996; Wu & Martinson, 1993); marital instability (Amato, 1996; Cherlin et al., 1995; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Teachman, 2002); and premarital sex (DeLeire & Kalil, 2002; Wu & Thomson, 2001). …

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