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Report Number P70-23
Suzanne Bianchi and Edith McArthur
Component ID: #ti231064733


This report analyzes the effect of family disruption on the economic well-being of children. Because of the high incidence of divorce and increase in the proportion of births to unmarried women, more children are spending at least a portion of childhood living with only one parent. The achievements of children in their adult lives are affected by family structure and income during childhood.1 Therefore, understanding how family disruption affects the economic status of children is important in understanding the current well-being of children and the long-run impact of changing family patterns.

This study augments existing research on the relationship between family structure and the economic well-being of children by focusing on the immediate repercussions of a parental departure from the household. Three questions are addressed: What happens to household income at the time a father leaves the household and in subsequent months? To what extent is the income loss associated with the departure of a father alleviated by either public assistance or child support payments from the absent parent? What changes occur in the labor force participation of the mother?

Data from the 1984 Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) are used to address these questions. The SIPP is designed to provide detailed information on short-term changes in the income and program participation of persons and households in the United States. The first interviews for the 1984 Panel were conducted between October 1983 and January 1984. Each sample household was visited seven more times at 4-month intervals. The eighth interview was conducted between February and May of 1986. Information was obtained on all members of sampled households. Household members 15 years or older and children who remained with a household member 15 years or older were followed to new addresses if they moved during the period.

At each interview, respondents reported on household composition, earnings, other cash and noncash income received, and program participation for each of the four months preceding the interview. For each household member, reports of economic status for a 32-month period were obtained. With these data, it is possible to construct a highly detailed picture of the economic situation of a household at any time during the observation period.

For this investigation into children's economic well-being, the sample includes those children under the age of 15 at the time of the first interview and for whom 32 months of data on household income and family composition exist. Information on the marital status, employment, earnings, income, and welfare recipiency of the child's parents for the 32-month period are linked to each child's record.2 Longitudinal panel weights are used to make population estimates and to compensate for panel attrition.

1 For example, daughters living in single-parent families at some point during adolescence are more likely to become household heads and to go on welfare than those in two-parent families. See Sara McLanahan and Karen Booth, "Mother-Only Families: Problems, Prospects, and Politics," Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 51 (August 1989), pp. 557-580. See also, Martha S. Hill and Greg J. Duncan, "Parental Family Income and the Socioeconomic Attainment of Children," Social Science Research, Vol. 16 (1987), pp.39-73.

2 1nterviewers were instructed to identify the mother, if she was a household member, otherwise the father as the "parent" of the child. That parent's identification number was then placed on the child's record. Using this key, the identified parent at the first interview was located and linked to the child. If that parent was married and living with a spouse at the first interview, a similar key on the parent's record identifying the spouse was used to locate the child's other parent if present in the household.

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