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A Change in Circumstances: Family and Household Transitions and Child Well-Being

Tue Dec 09 2014
Written By: Lynda Laughlin
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Change is inevitable, but how often things change can matter for the well-being of children. A new report, A Child’s Day: Living Arrangements, Nativity, and Family Transitions: 2011, uses multiyear data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to understand how often children experience family and household transitions.

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The new report examines three types of transitions that children potentially face. A family structure transition occurs if the child experienced a change in family structure due to a parent getting married, divorced or cohabiting with a new partner. An employment transition occurs if either parent in the household lost or gained a job. Lastly, a residential transition occurs if the child moved at any point.

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Over half (56 percent) of children experienced at least one type of transition between 2008 and 2011. The most common type of transition that children experienced was a change in a parent’s employment status (32 percent). Family income was associated with the occurrence of a household or economic transition.

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Children living in economically well-off families (300 percent of poverty or higher) were less likely to experience a family, residential or parental employment transition compared with children living in families with monthly incomes below the poverty threshold.

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Changes in the home environment and economic resources often overlap. Figure 1  shows how often changes in family structure, residential location and parental employment coincided among children who had at least one transition between 2008 and 2011. Overall, 56 percent (38.2 million) of children experienced at least one transition.

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Of the 12.4 million children who experienced a family structure transition, 4.8 million also experienced a parental employment transition (39 percent). Among children who moved(19.6 million), a higher proportion of children were more likely to have also experienced a parental employment transition (42 percent) than to have undergone a residential move and change in family structure (26 percent). Overall, 3 percent (2.3 million) of children encountered all three transitions at least once between 2008 and 2011.

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Children living below poverty were more likely to have encountered all three transitions compared with children living at or above poverty (6 percent and 3 percent, respectively).

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Instability is often linked to child outcomes and is examined in more detail in our new report:

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