Family Instability and Children’s Cognitive Trajectories in the U.S. and U.K.

Melanie Wright Fox, Princeton University

Children from lower-income families in the US and UK have lower academic performance throughout childhood, leading to disadvantages later in life. Family structure may explain some of these differences. This paper uses the Fragile Families Study and the Millennial Cohort Study to examine three questions: How large and stable is the income/test score gap in these countries? How much of the gap is due to family structure and instability? Do the effects of family structure and stability differ by the age of the child at exposure and transition type? Cognitive differences by income quintile are strong but relatively stable from early to middle childhood, and family characteristics explain much of this difference. Changes in family structure explain little of this gap. Still, both biological and social father exits from the household are associated with downward cognitive trajectories for children, particularly when exits occur by age three

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Presented in Poster Session 9: Children and Youth; Data and Methods