Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Residential Conditions Explain the Relationship between Living Arrangements and Adolescent Behavior?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Residential Conditions Explain the Relationship between Living Arrangements and Adolescent Behavior?

Article excerpt

Persistent effects of childhood living arrangements and family change on adolescent outcomes have often been attributed to differences in socialization and intrafamily processes. We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assess an alternative explanation: that neighborhood context and residential mobility represent a central set of mechanisms through which family structure affects adolescent risk behavior. Our results indicate that the effects of childhood living arrangements and family change on the risk of dropping out of school (n = 8,267) and of experiencing a premarital teen pregnancy (n = 6,063) are largely attenuated when differences in the level of neighborhood disadvantage and the number of residential moves experienced by adolescents is taken into account.

Key Words: childhood living arrangements, neighborhood distress, residential mobility, school dropout, teen childbearing.

A wealth of research over several decades has focused on the effects of childhood living arrangements on a variety of social and economic outcomes. For example, various investigators have demonstrated substantial effects of childhood living arrangements and changes in living arrangements on educational performance and attainment, marriage and premarital cohabitation, sexual activity, marital and premarital childbearing, and adult economic outcomes (for reviews of this literature, see Haveman & Wolfe, 1995; Teachman & Tedrow, 1999). Paralleling this research on the correlates of childhood living arrangements is a growing body of research on the effects of neighborhood conditions on these same outcomes. Although still emerging, this body of research has revealed significant effects of neighborhood economic composition on educational attainment, employment and occupational achievement, marriage and premarital cohabitation, and a wide range of fertility-related behaviors (e.g., Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, & Klebanov, 1993; Corcoran, Gordon, & Laren, 1992; Crane, 1991; Massey & Shibuya, 1995; South & Crowder, 1999). Similarly, changes in neighborhood context have been shown to significantly influence educational experiences (e.g., Hagan, MacMillan, & Wheaton, 1996; McNeal, 1999; Tucker, Marx, & Long, 1998) and the risk of teenage childbearing (South & Baumer, 2000).

Although they share both a focus on similar outcomes and important theoretical assumptions, research on neighborhood effects and that on childhood living arrangements have remained largely detached from one another. We seek to rectify this gap in the literature by investigating the joint effects of childhood living arrangements and neighborhood context on two important early life course transitions: high school graduation and premarital teenage childbearing. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), merged with neighborhood-level information taken from the U.S. Census, our research is designed to assess the extent to which childhood living arrangements and neighborhood context exert independent effects on the likelihood of dropping out of high school and of experiencing a premarital birth. More specifically, we seek to determine whether neighborhood context and residential mobility represent central mechanisms through which childhood living arrangements affect these risk behaviors.

BACKGROUND AND THEORY

The living arrangements of children have undergone a massive transformation over the past three decades (Teachman, Tedrow, & Crowder, 2000), motivating a spate of research documenting the effects of living arrangements, and changes therein, on children's short- and long-term well-being. Despite the breadth of research on the topic, previous investigations have provided few clues about the mechanisms through which living arrangements operate to influence individual social and economic outcomes, leaving substantial debate about whether the effects of children's parent histories are causal or even direct. …

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